Trainspotting: 20th anniversary of iconic film
IN THE BEGINNING
The novel, written by city author Irvine Welsh, was inspired by his own experiences in Edinburgh in the 1980s, and is told through an array of characters whose worlds intertwine through drug addiction and shared attempts to escape the tedium and squalor of their lives. It caused outrage from some quarters, and was held up as a literary masterpiece by others, when published in 1993.
As word of the novel spread, the tale of junkie debauchery flew off bookshop shelves, before being turned into a play, and it wasn’t long before Welsh was inundated by people wanting to snap up film rights.
He recently wrote in Empire magazine: “It [the film] needed to be, despite the often grim subject matter, an uncompromisingly swaggering celebration of youthful camaraderie and joie de vivre.”
But he felt most of the filmmakers were missing the point, and only interested in making a worthy, morality tale.
BOYLE ON BOARD
Director Danny Boyle got in touch, describing his vision for the movie but, according to the author, making it clear from the outset that he wanted writer John Hodge and producer Andrew Macdonald, who he collaborated with on 1994’s Shallow Grave to great acclaim, to be involved. Welsh had already sold the rights to another producer but, following negotiations, they were transferred to Macdonald – and the team was ready to make the movie.
THE FIRST DRAFT
In the autumn of 1994, Boyle, Macdonald and Hodge started working out which chapters would best translate to film. By December, Hodge – who went on to win a Bafta and receive an Oscar nomination for the screenplay – had completed the first draft. The famous “Choose life” monologue was originally planned for the middle of the movie, but was moved after Boyle and Hodge struggled to find the right opening sequence.
Following his performance in Shallow Grave, Ewan McGregor was cast early on as lead character Renton; Ewen Bremner, who had portrayed Renton on stage, was chosen to play Spud; and Jonny Lee Miller, who had impressed Boyle in the movie Hackers, was picked to portray Sick Boy. Christopher Eccleston was rumoured to have been in the running for the role of Begbie before Boyle decided to go with Robert Carlyle, while Kelly Macdonald was hired to play schoolgirl Diane, following a city-wide search for an unknown.
PREP AND SHOOTING
As part of his preparation, McGregor lost two stone in weight, shaved his head, read books about crack and heroin addiction and met recovering addicts. Boyle also got the cast to watch movies about defiant youths, including A Clockwork Orange. For seven weeks in 1995, the cast and crew converged on Glasgow in a disused tobacco factory, in uncharacteristically hot conditions. Due to the lack of time and budget, many scenes were filmed in one take and it was a hands-on approach. For instance, the scene in which Renton sinks into the floor after overdosing was achieved by physically lowering McGregor off a platform.
As with all of Boyle’s movies, music proved pivotal. The likes of Iggy Pop and Lou Reed were combined with Britpop acts such as Elastica, as well as Underworld’s iconic dance anthem Born Slippy, on the bestselling soundtrack. A second soundtrack was released featuring songs that hadn’t made the final cut, as well as ones that had influenced the filmmakers.
THE MOVIE IS LET LOOSE
After its release, the film, with its gritty, handheld camera shots, hallucinatory imagery and unapologetic take on the subject matter, received widespread acclaim. It entertained and appalled, and fed into the Britpop euphoria of the 1990s and the rise of Cool Britannia.
Famously, US senator Bob Dole accused the filmmakers of glorifying drug use during the 1996 US presidential campaign – later admitting he hadn’t actually seen the film.
A few changes were made ahead of the movie’s US release, namely the sex scene between McGregor and Macdonald, which was trimmed by a few seconds, while the first 20 minutes of dialogue were re-recorded by the actors doing softened Scottish accents, so American audiences could have time to adjust to the dialogue.
A SEQUEL LOOMS
In September 2015, Boyle confirmed that a sequel to the generation-defining film had been green lit. He said: “A couple of the actors [Miller, who stars in Elementary, and Carlyle, who’s in Once Upon A Time] have ongoing television shows in America, but there’s a window we can shoot in, in May and June this year, so we’re setting up to do that.”
Given the phenomenal success of the first movie, it’s little wonder the cast was “tentative” about returning to their breakthrough roles. “I think they were all worried about doing it for the wrong reasons and the test of that is partly the script, which I think they were all convinced by,” notes Boyle, who has said it won’t be a straightforward take on Welsh’s follow-up novel, Porno.
“They could see it’s a good script, and also, just the way we talked about it, how it would be set up and shot. It’s not about trying to cash in on the original. It lives in the shadow of the original to a degree, but in a really interesting way.”