Review: Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996)

At the time of writing, as its 20-years-later sequel arrives in the UK, looking back at Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting with fresh eyes proves something of a challenge. Its legacy in terms of British cinema remains relatively undiminished, from the front and behind camera careers it sent skyrocketing and its iconic dialogue and sequences to its international success, and how it helped re-shape what UK movies breaking into the mainstream could be.

As one of the flagship films of the so-called Cool Britannia movement of the mid-90s, it’s one of the few media artefacts of the period that holds up remarkably well. Why is this? Well, a major part is that, despite the irreverence and exuberance on display, Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge, in adapting Irvine Welsh’s novel of the same name, never shy away from the fact that their protagonists are bad people. They’re charismatic as hell, particularly ostensible hero Renton (McGregor), but, to paraphrase Renton’s own words about the English, “they’re just wankers”. Bar Kevin McKidd’s Tommy, sent down a path of drugs and diseased decay by Renton’s actions, Boyle and Hodge wisely refrain from framing these addicts of various types (from heroin to the rush of physical violence) as aspirational, despite the energy surrounding their mishaps…

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