T2 Trainspotting (2017)

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova, Kelly Macdonald, Shirley Henderson, James Cosmo

Directed by: Danny Boyle

Rating: 1 2 3 4 5

'Now you're telling me, you're not nostalgic
Then give me another word for it
You who were so good with words...'

Diamonds and Rust, Joan Baez (via Judas Priest)

I was 23 when Trainspotting came out, just a few months away from moving back to Edinburgh for good. Too old to see it as a coming of age movie, too Miss Jean Brodie middle class to relate to the lives of those trapped in the hopeless housing schemes surrounding the cultured, elegant, exciting city centre, inhabitants crippled by drugs, shorn of prospects or potential.

Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller in T2 Trainspotting

Rather, the film haunted me. Tommy, the baby, the kitten, 'Perfect Day' – they were all so horribly sad.

Twenty years on, the events of the first movie still haunt the surviving characters, just as faded flashbacks haunt the film itself. It's middle aged men wallowing in nostalgia, watched by an audience many of whom, judging by the comments flung at the screen and the continual popping of Tennents cans throughout the show, could have been Renton, Sickboy or Spud in a former life. (Yeah, note to self, don't go the cinema on a Tuesday afternoon again – it is a scary place...)

And yet... it's f*cking magnificent.

Twenty years since ripping off his pals at the end of the first film, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) is back in Edinburgh. Like Renton, the city (the real star of the show) has cleaned up, softened its edges, gentrified. Except in certain pockets (and I can see some of them from the window of the no. 7 bus as I write this) where the likes of Spud (Ewen Bremner) still abide, still a hapless, hopeless junkie, a sad clown who's as tragic as he's hilarious. Then there's Sickboy (Jonny Lee Miller) now known as Simon, whose slick veneer of shady prosperity hides sleazy cons and a ferocious cocaine habit. And Begbie, Robert Carlyle's monstrous, yet somehow pathetic, psycho hardman, who's had two decades in Saughton to stew over Renton's betrayal.

Robert Carlyle as Begbie in T2 Trainspotting

The stage is set for a Jacobean revenge drama played out amidst brothels and '80s nightclubs, hipster bars and Harvey Nichols, trams, trains, Parliament and the last remaining old man's pub in Leith.

Ewen Bremner as Spud in T2 Trainspotting

Gritty yet glossy, cynical yet curiously moving, T2 is a raucous, occasionally revolting romp of a movie that grips you by the collar and doesn't let go. Part zippy crime caper, complete with portly mob bosses and Irvine Welch as a superfence, part whatever happened to Generation 90s ('not a lot' is my experience), part eloquent poem to Scotland's capital, it never stops both surprising while at the same time remaining curiously and reassuringly predictable and neat. Renton's bitter 'choose life' rant may have been updated to berate Facebook, revenge porn, slut shaming and all the other evils that have beset the 21st century since 1996, but in the end it's a just a speech, a clever soliloquy, and bears little relevance to Renton's actual choices in the story.

So, like Renton, choose to return to the world of Trainspotting; it's a hell of a ride.

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