T2 shows how much the capital still needs to change, writes Brian Ferguson
When the world premiere of Trainspotting’s long-awaited sequel was confirmed for Edinburgh, the last place I expected to watch Danny Boyle introduce the film was in London. But that was the slightly surreal scenario last week when the first journalists saw arguably the most hyped film in Scottish cinematic history.
London provided the backdrop to the first film’s finale, but it still felt strange to watch such an important Scottish movie in a country many Scots now regard as a foreign land.
Much has changed in Scotland since Trainspotting was released in 1996 – the year before Tony Blair got into power and the long-held dream of a Scottish Parliament became a reality.
I suspect audiences in Scotland will react differently to those south of the border to the end result – and not not just due to the many scenes injected with author Irvine Welsh’s pitch-black sense of humour.
Much of T2 covers familiar territory, thanks to flashbacks, in-jokes, a largely nostalgic soundtrack, scams, run-down housing schemes, brutal violence and, of course, drug-taking.
Long-standing fans may shuffle uncomfortably in their seats as T2 tackles the drifting apart of old friends, the breakdown of relationships, the disappointments of middle age and fear of the future.
But it also confronts issues which may prove equally uncomfortable for any Scottish politicians tempted to bask in its reflected glory.
Some scenes would rival any VisitScotland campaign and are bound to bring spin-offs to the city. Edinburgh’s unfinished tram network has also become a sexy 21st century transport system.
However, T2 also highlights issues which have generated surprisingly little debate in Edinburgh.
Among these are creeping gentrification of Leith, dereliction and deprivation which has been untouched by the property boom, the sectarian strife blighting working class communities, and the crime kingpins operating behind the doors of seemingly legitimate businesses.
For Renton’s updated rant against the curses of modern-day life, the bleak backdrop of the Highlands was swapped for a sleek bar on St Andrew Square, the epicentre of the regeneration revolution in the east end of New Town – to the dismay of conservationists and delight of real estate firms.
While there are more multiplex cinemas, student housing developments and budget hotels, the city centre has suffered from the loss of several important cultural venues, including the Odeon, scene of so many past premieres, and the Venue, on Calton Road, one of the key locations in both movies.
Leith itself may boast fashionable bars and restaurants on its waterfront, like the one Renton and Sick Boy frequent, but its historic theatre has been boarded up for the best part of 30 years. The city is still badly lacking a film studio where the filmmakers of the future can learn their trade.
Much more importantly, there are undoubtedly those still suffering from extreme poverty, drug addiction and unemployment on the fringes of Edinburgh.
Wandering through Leicester Square, I wondered whether Renton had returned to a city of even more extremes and contradictions than two decades previously, and whether Edinburgh was changed for the better or worse.