THE 21 BEST FILMS TO WATCH
SPARKED BY THE RETURN OF TRAINSPOTTING – THE DARKLY COMIC TALE THAT FURTHER INJECTED COOL BRITANNIA INTO THE CONSCIOUSNESS.
Ahead of the sequel to Trainspotting, we reflect on the film that captured mid-’90s Cool Britannia, and chart the other seminal movies you need to re-watch.
STAN SMITHS, GAZELLES, BUCKET HATS, ALEXANDER MCQUEEN, RAVES, OASIS, BLUR, PULP, TONY BLAIR, DAMIEN HIRST, KATE MOSS, NAOMI CAMPBELL, ECSTACY – AND TRAINSPOTTING. NOW, TWO DECADES ON FROM THE MOVIE THAT DEFINED THE HELL-RAISING ‘WE-DON’T-GIVE-A-FUCK’ SPIRIT OF MID-NINETIES BRITAIN, JONNY LEE MILLER TALKS ABOUT ITS LEGACY, AS GQ WONDERS WHETHER THE SEQUEL, OUT NEXT MONTH, CAN POSSIBLY CAPTURE THE ORIGINAL’S POTENT SPIRIT.
“If a film is good it will stand the test of time, whatever it’s about. You know, whether it’s The Godfather, or Star Wars, or, well, Trainspotting.” Jonny Lee Miller’s right. Though he’s also quick to check his words. “I know that sounded like I’ve got really grand, lumping it in with legendary movies like that, but it’s true. If a movie’s good, it’ll stand up.” Stand it does – the original Danny Boyle piece as erect as the disposable needle that pierced not only the veins of the mordant Scottish junkies it trailed, but the culture of the time. It asked questions. It prompted thought. It explored rebellion. It stuck. It stuck hard. And it still does. Trainspotting grabs audiences from the getgo. With Ewan Mcgregor’s Renton as narrator, the over-quoted opening soliloquy careens into the audience much like the debut introduction to Renton and Spud ( Ewan Bremner), stumbling as they do along Edinburgh’s Princes Street to Iggy Pop’s thrusting ‘Lust For Life’. “Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin can openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental i urance. Choose fixed-interest mortga men hoose a starter home. hoo you friends. Choose leisurewear matchi uggage. Choose a three-pi suite on hir urchase in a range of fu g fabrics. oose DIY and wonde e fuc u are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth,” rants Renton. “But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life – I chose something else.” That choice is heroin, the film an acerbic and tragic play to the life of these Scottish
junkies (Lee Miller’s Sick Boy and Robert Carlyle’s Begbie the additional keys) and the camaraderie and eventual betrayal that cloaks their tightly held ranks. It’s an ode to the misunderstood outsider – those miscreants who steal and lie their way to a hit. Or in Begbie’s case, a drink. Still – are they not living? Are they not embracing a sense of rebellion, however neatly packaged? Are they not seeking more than those running on a professional mouse wheel? Such questioning was quickly answered. Despite some silly backlash about the skag – seriously, how does this film glamorise drug use? – there was a stampede of support, with critics and the public eagerly adopting its message. Britons, already gorging on a heady cultural period that was the mid1990s, cheered loudest. It was 1996. It was pre-internet (as least as we know it today) and the UK was basking in a global spotlight illuminating it as the world’s creative hub. It was the end of Thatcherism and the rise of the centre-left and New Labour; it was Stan Smiths, Gazelles, bucket hats and a dominant rave culture; it was the mainstream repositioning of MDMA and ecstasy. It was also about those walking the musical path laid by 808 State, the Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, the Happy Mondays and Madchester. It was about Britpop and the Gallagher brothers, Blur, Justine Frischmann, Jarvis Cocker and Bobby Gillespie. And it was about what all this incredible social energy would next bring. “I definitely remember it being a pretty exciting time,” Lee Miller tells GQ. “And I think there was a real expectation for Trainspotting to come. There was rave culture, there were all these great bands such as Oasis and Blur. The music was fucking exploding – it was amazing, it was brilliant. And it really was this thing about rebellion and, you know, ‘Fuck this, we’re going to do our own thing and have a good time doing it.’ And I think the movie commented on all that and it hit at the right time.” Speak to Mcgregor, and he’ll admit to feeling that, as an actor, he was part of “the new wave of something”. He’ll also state that of all he’s done the past 21 years, Trainspotting remains the film most want to talk about. And let’s not forget that he held a light saber in Star Wars. Forgettable as that was. “Truthfully, I don’t think that anyone could have predicted just how successful Trainspotting would be today,” Mcgregor’s said of the film that launched the protagonists’ careers. “I mean, it’s still the main thing people ask about when they come up to me in the street. I really get a sense that it’s possibly the biggest film I’ve done, or definitely the most successful in terms of being in the human consciousness.” Irvine Welsh – his book already a hit – readily sharpened his response to the film ahead of its release. “To me, if you get a film made of your book, it’s a complete win-win situation,” he said. “If the film’s shit, you just disassociate yourself from it and say, ‘They fucked up.’ I talk to some writers who view it as their book being desecrated, and it’s not that at all – your book’s not being touched. Nobody is ripping out pages or changing words. All they’re doing is transferring your storytelling into a different medium. I was asked if I wanted to be involved [as a writer], but I think the most important thing for me was not to fuck with the energy that these two guys [Danny Boyle and producer Andrew Macdonald] had. I looked at John Hodge’s screenplay for Shallow Grave [the trio’s first major big-screen effort] and thought, ‘There’s nothing I can teach this guy about screenwriting. I needed to keep my distance and let people get on with it.” He did. And then he packed a private Soho screening with music mates – eager to gauge their opinion before the film’s debut. “I brought along people who really loved the book and would be very critical of the film if it wasn’t any good. I brought along Bobby Gillespie and Andrew Innes from Primal Scream, Jeff Barrett from Heavenly Records, people who were friends and were really into the story, basically. People who would say it was shit if it didn’t capture the spirit of the book. I was watching them more than I was the screen, to be honest, and there were a few comments like, ‘Is that meant to be Begbie? Is that meant to be Sick Boy?’ And then it stopped. Once the characters were embedded in their heads, it took over and they were transfixed. They were all stunned speechless at the end of the movie. When they did find their voice in the bar afterwards, it was fucking amazing – they were blown away and thought it was fucking brilliant. I knew then that it was going to be absolutely massive.” Cut to now – to 2017, 21 years since the masses first got their hit of the original. Anticipation is again palpable – though that feeling of desire is largely fueled by a want for the repeat outing, T2: Trainspotting, to not fuck with the legacy of what went before. “It’s going to be incredible. It’s a very beautiful, brilliant script – and it needed to be,” said Mcgregor. “I don’t think any of us would have wanted to be involved in something that wasn’t going to live up to the first film. That’s the danger with any sequel, but especially this one and after such a long period of time.”
For Lee Miller, it’s about again finding what he labels “relatability”. It’s what he sees as the core strength of the original in its ability to cut through. Sure, it may have been about a bunch of junkies and reprobates, but their moves were built on wanting something more, about trying something different and a desire to escape the mundane. It was accessible. It was universal. It was why, ultimately, the film travelled so well. “Even though it’s really out there and the characters were taking heroin and were pretty extreme in their behaviour, it was still relatable – to the way the characters interacted with each other, its comments on society, the characters’ view of their circumstances and [spoiler alert for the three people reading this who haven’t seen Trainspotting] Renton screwing everybody over at the end. And I think there are some similarities in this new movie, but it’s relatable for a whole new set of reasons such as, ‘What have you got left? What have you done with your life? Who are you? And what’s important to you and who are your mates?’ So I’m hoping it will work in that respect.” Based on Welsh’s trickier 2002 novel, Porno, T2 calls for reflection as the key group – and all actors involved in the original are on board – come together 20 years on. “You’ll see all the guys are in very different places,” says Lee Miller. “Rather than being the group unit they were before, they’ve all gone their very different ways, so it’s different in that respect. And you’re revisiting these characters 20 years later – it’s about how much bite do they have left in them and how rebellious are they, what have they done with their life and what are the consequences of that. I don’t think it’s going to be a revelation to the youth of today like the first movie was, but that’s not the intention – none of us are looking to do that, because that’s trying to recreate something you’ve already done and that’s not the point. Because, as I say, we did that, and it was brilliant.” T2: Trainspotting is in cinemas February 23
“IT WAS OUT THERE AND MOST OF THE CHARACTERS WERE TAKING HEROIN, YET IT WAS STILL RELATABLE TO VIEWERS.”