UK release poster
|Directed by||Danny Boyle|
|Produced by||Andrew Macdonald|
|Screenplay by||John Hodge|
by Irvine Welsh
Jonny Lee Miller
|Editing by||Masahiro Hirakubo|
|Studio||Channel Four Films|
|Distributed by||PolyGram Filmed Entertainment (UK)
Miramax Films (US)
|Running time||93 minutes|
Trainspotting is a 1996 Scottish black comedy/drama film directed by Danny Boyle based on the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh and starring Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle, and Kelly Macdonald.
The Academy Award nominated screenplay, by John Hodge, follows a group of heroin addicts in a late 1980s economically depressed area of Edinburgh and their passage through life. Beyond drug addiction, other themes in the film are exploration of the urban poverty and squalor in "culturally rich" Edinburgh.
The film has been ranked 10th by the British Film Institute (BFI) in its list of Top 100 British films of all time. In 2004 the film was voted the best Scottish film of all time in a general public poll.
Heroin addicts Mark Renton and Spud — known by his nickname – are running down Princes Street pursued by store security guards. Renton's circle of friends are introduced: amoral con artist Sick Boy, simple-minded, good-natured Spud – both also heroin addicts – clean-cut athlete Tommy, and sociopath Begbie, who picks extremely violent fights with people who get in his way.
Renton decides to quit heroin. He buys opium rectal suppositories from Mikey Forrester to ease the transition. After this final hit (and a violent spell of diarrhea caused by cessation of heroin) he locks himself into a cheap hotel room to endure withdrawal. He later goes with his friends to a club, finding that his sex drive has returned, and eventually leaves with a young woman named Diane. In the morning, he realises that Diane is a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl and that her "flatmates" are actually her parents. Horrified, Renton tries to shake the incident, but is forced to remain in touch after Diane blackmails him.
Sick Boy, Spud and Renton start using heroin again and Tommy, whose girlfriend dumped him after a chain of events initiated by Renton, begins using as well. One day the group's heroin-induced stupor is violently interrupted when Allison, their friend and fellow addict, discovers that her infant daughter Dawn has died from neglect without any of the group noticing. All are horrified and grief-stricken, especially Sick Boy, who is implied to have secretly been Dawn's father.
Renton and Spud are later caught stealing from a book shop and are pursued by security guards and arrested. Due to prior convictions Spud goes to prison, but Renton avoids punishment by entering a Drug Interventions Programme, where he is given methadone. Despite support from his family, Renton is depressed and bored, and escapes to his drug dealer's flat, where he nearly dies of an overdose. Renton's parents take him home and lock him in his old bedroom to force him through withdrawal. As Renton goes through severe withdrawal symptoms in his room, he hallucinates Diane singing on the bed, his friends giving him advice and Allison's dead baby crawling on the ceiling. The heroin withdrawal is inter-cut with an imagined TV game show in which host Dale Winton asks Renton's parents questions about HIV. Renton is finally roused from his nightmares and hallucinations by his parents, who tell him he needs to get tested. Despite years of sharing syringes with other addicts, Renton tests negative.
Though clean of heroin, Renton is nevertheless bored and depressed. He visits Tommy, who has succumbed to addiction and is now severely ill and HIV positive. Renton moves to London and with a more professional image, starts a job as a property letting agent. He begins to enjoy his new life of sobriety and saves up money on the side while corresponding with Diane. However, soon Begbie, who has committed an armed robbery, and Sick Boy, who is now a pimp and drug dealer, show up at Renton's bedsit expecting to move in.
In Edinburgh, Tommy dies from HIV-related toxoplasmosis and the three travel back to Scotland for his funeral. While home, they meet Spud, who has been released from prison. Sick Boy suggests a profitable but dangerous heroin transaction, but needs Renton to supply half of the initial £4,000. After the purchase, Renton injects himself with a sample to test the heroin's purity. The four sell the heroin to a dealer for £16,000. During their celebration at a pub, Renton secretly suggests to Spud that they steal the money, but Spud is too frightened of Begbie to consider it. Renton finally has enough of Begbie after witnessing him glass and then beat a man who accidentally spilt beer over him. Early in the morning as the others sleep, Renton quietly takes the money. Spud sees him leave but does not tell the others. When Begbie awakens he destroys the hotel room in a violent rampage which attracts the police whilst Spud and Sick Boy flee.
Renton then vows to live a stable, traditional life. Later, Spud finds £2,000 Renton has left for him as Spud was the only member of the group who Renton felt sorry for.
- Ewan McGregor as Mark "Rent Boy" Renton
- Ewen Bremner as Daniel "Spud" Murphy
- Jonny Lee Miller as Simon "Sick Boy" Williamson
- Robert Carlyle as Francis "Franco" Begbie
- Kevin McKidd as Tommy MacKenzie
- Kelly Macdonald as Diane Coulston
- Peter Mullan as Swanney "Mother Superior"
- Eileen Nicholas as Mrs. Renton
- James Cosmo as Mr. Renton
- Susan Vidler as Allison
- Pauline Lynch as Lizzy
- Shirley Henderson as Gail
- Irvine Welsh as Mikey Forrester
- Keith Allen as The Dealer
Producer Andrew Macdonald read Irvine Welsh's book on a plane in December 1993 and felt that it could be made into a film. He turned it on to director Danny Boyle and writer John Hodge in February 1994. Boyle was excited by its potential to be the "most energetic film you've ever seen – about something that ultimately ends up in purgatory or worse". Hodge read it and made it his goal to "produce a screenplay which would seem to have a beginning, a middle and an end, would last 90 minutes and would convey at least some of the spirit and the content of the book". Boyle convinced Welsh to let them option the rights to his book by writing him a letter stating that Hodge and Macdonald were "the two most important Scotsmen since Kenny Dalglish and Alex Ferguson". Welsh remembered that originally the people wanting to option his book "wanted to make a po-faced piece of social realism like Christiane F or The Basketball Diaries". He was impressed that Boyle, Hodge and Macdonald wanted everyone to see the film and "not just the arthouse audience". In October 1994, Hodge, Boyle and Macdonald spent a lot of time discussing which chapters of the book would and would not translate into film. Hodge finished the first draft by December. Macdonald secured financing from Channel 4, a British television station known for funding independent films.
Pre-production began in April 1995 with Ewan McGregor cast in advance after impressing Boyle and Macdonald with his work on their previous film, Shallow Grave. According to Boyle, for the role of Renton, they wanted somebody who had the quality "Michael Caine's got in Alfie and Malcolm McDowell's got in A Clockwork Orange" – a repulsive character with charm "that makes you feel deeply ambiguous about what he's doing". McGregor shaved his head and lost 2 stone for the film. Ewen Bremner had played Renton in the stage adaptation of Trainspotting and agreed to play the role of Spud. He said, "I felt that these characters were part of my heritage". Boyle had heard about Jonny Lee Miller playing an American in the film Hackers and was impressed when he auditioned by doing a Sean Connery accent. For the role of Begbie, Boyle thought about casting Christopher Eccleston because he resembled how the director imagined the character in the book, but decided to go a different route and asked Robert Carlyle instead. Carlyle said, "I've met loads of Begbies in my time. Wander round Glasgow on Saturday night and you've a good chance of running into Begbie". For the role of Diane, Boyle wanted an actress with no previous experience "so no-one would twig that a 19-year-old was playing the part" of a 14-year-old. The filmmakers sent flyers to nightclubs and boutiques and even approached people on the street, eventually hiring Kelly Macdonald.
McGregor read books about crack and heroin to prepare for the role. He also went to Glasgow and met people from the Calton Athletic Recovery Group, an organisation of recovering heroin addicts. He was taught how to cook up heroin with a spoon using glucose powder. McGregor considered injecting heroin to better understand the character, but eventually decided against it.
Many of the book's stories and characters were dropped to create a cohesive script of adequate length. Danny Boyle had his actors prepare by making them watch older movies about rebellious youths like The Hustler, The Exorcist and A Clockwork Orange.
Trainspotting was shot in mid-1995 over seven weeks on a budget of $2.5 million with the cast and crew working out of an abandoned cigarette factory in Glasgow. Due to a lack of budget and time constraints, most scenes were done in one take, which contributed to the grungy look of the film. For example, when Renton sinks into the floor after overdosing on heroin, the crew built a platform above a trap door and lowered the actor down. The scene where Renton (McGregor) dives in a toilet is a reference to Thomas Pynchon's 1973 novel Gravity's Rainbow. The faeces in the 'Worst Toilet in Scotland' scene were made from chocolate. For the look of the film, Boyle was influenced by the colours of Francis Bacon's paintings, which represented "a sort of in-between land – part reality, part fantasy".
Marketing and theatrical release
Macdonald worked with Miramax Films to sell the film as a British Pulp Fiction, flooding the market with postcards, posters, books, soundtrack albums, and a revamped music video for "Lust for Life" by Iggy Pop directed by Boyle.
Upon its initial release in the United States, the first 20 minutes of Trainspotting were re-edited with alternative dialogue to allow the American audience to comprehend the strong Scottish accents and slang. In addition, to ensure that the film received an R rating, Boyle trimmed two scenes: a graphic display of a syringe filled with heroin being inserted into a vein and Kelly Macdonald straddling McGregor during an orgasm. The original dialogue was later restored on the Criterion Collection laserdisc in 1997 and then on the re-release of the "Director's Cut (The Collector's Edition)" DVD in 2004.
Notable locations in the film include:
- The opening scene showing Renton and Spud being chased by store detectives was filmed on Princes Street, Edinburgh. A scene showing the theft did not make the final cut and was filmed in the music department of the since-closed John Menzies, also on Princes Street, the store still exists but is now owned by the retail giant Next.
- The scene where the chase ends is on Calton Road, Edinburgh, near the rear entrance of Waverley Station.
- The park where Sick Boy and Renton discuss James Bond, Sean Connery, and The Name of the Rose is Rouken Glen Park in Giffnock, near Glasgow. The park was also the site of the grave in Boyle's previous film, Shallow Grave.
- Corrour railway station is the setting for the "great outdoors" scene in the film, where Tommy suggests the group climb Leum Uilleim.
- The flat that Renton shows the young couple around when he gets the job as an estate agent and ultimately stashes Begbie and Sick Boy in is 78A Talgarth Road in West Kensington, London, opposite West Kensington tube station.
- The scenes where they do their drug deal takes place in Bayswater. The scene where they parody the cover of The Beatles album Abbey Road takes place as they walk out of Smallbrook Mews across Craven Road to the Royal Eagle, 26–30 Craven Road, Bayswater.
- The school attended by Diane is Jordanhill in Glasgow's West End.
- The pub in which Begbie throws a pint glass off a balcony is Crosslands, located on Queen Margaret Drive, Glasgow. The pub has an oil painting depicting the scene hung in the upstairs area.
- 30 of the 50 locations used were in the then derelict Wills' Cigarette Factory on Alexandra Parade, Glasgow.
The Trainspotting soundtracks were two best-selling albums of music centred around the film. The first is a collection of songs featured in the film, while the second includes those left out from the first soundtrack and extra songs that inspired the filmmakers during production.
Trainspotting was screened at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival but was shown out of competition, according to the filmmakers, due to its subject. It went on to become the festival's one unqualified critical and popular hit. The film made £12 million in the domestic market and $72 million internationally. By the time it opened in North America, on 19 July 1996, the film had made more than $18 million in Britain. It initially opened in eight theatres and on its first weekend grossed $33,000 per screen. The film finally made $16.4 million in North America. Trainspotting was the highest-grossing British film of 1996, and at the time it was the fourth highest grossing British film in history.
In Britain, Trainspotting garnered almost universal praise from critics. In his review for The Guardian, Derek Malcolm gave the film credit for tapping into the youth subculture of the time and felt that it was "acted out with a freedom of expression that's often astonishing." Empire magazine gave the film five out of five stars and described the film as "something Britain can be proud of and Hollywood must be afraid of. If we Brits can make movies this good about subjects this horrific, what chance does Tinseltown have?"
American film critic Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars and praised its portrayal of addicts' experiences with each other. In his review for the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, "in McGregor ... the film has an actor whose magnetism monopolizes our attention no matter what". Entertainment Weekly gave the film an "A" rating and Owen Gleiberman wrote, "Like Scorsese and Tarantino, Boyle uses pop songs as rhapsodic mood enhancers, though in his own ravey-hypnotic style. Whether he's staging a fumbly sex montage to Sleeper's version of Atomic or having Renton go cold turkey to the ominous slow build of Underworld's Dark and Long ... Trainspotting keeps us wired to the pulse of its characters' passions". In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, "Trainspotting doesn't have much narrative holding it together. Nor does it really have the dramatic range to cope with such wild extremes. Most of it sticks to the same moderate pitch, with entertainment value enhanced by Mr. Boyle's savvy use of wide angles, bright colours, attractively clean compositions and a dynamic pop score".
Rolling Stone's Peter Travers wrote, "the film's flash can't disguise the emptiness of these blasted lives. Trainspotting is 90 minutes of raw power that Boyle and a bang-on cast inject right into the vein". In his review for the Washington Post, Desson Howe wrote, "Without a doubt, this is the most provocative, enjoyable pop-cultural experience since Pulp Fiction". Jonathan Rosenbaum, in his review for the Chicago Reader, wrote, "Like Twister and Independence Day, this movie is a theme-park ride – though it's a much better one, basically a series of youthful thrills, spills, chills, and swerves rather than a story intended to say very much". Trainspotting has a 89% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an 83 metascore on Metacritic.
Its release sparked some controversy in some countries, including Britain, Australia and the United States, as to whether it promoted drug use or not. US Senator Bob Dole accused it of moral depravity and glorifying drug use during the 1996 US presidential campaign, although he later admitted that he had not seen the film. Despite the controversy, it was widely praised and received a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay in that year's Academy Awards. Time magazine ranked Trainspotting as the third best film of 1996.
The film had an immediate impact on popular culture. In 1999, Trainspotting was ranked in the 10th spot by the British Film Institute (BFI) in its list of Top 100 British films of all time, while in 2004 the magazine Total Film named it the fourth greatest British film of all time. The Observer polled several filmmakers and film critics who voted it the best British film in the last 25 years. In 2004, the film was voted the best Scottish film of all time by the public in a poll for The List magazine. Trainspotting has since developed a cult following. It has also been recognised as an important piece of culture and film during the 1990s British cultural tour de force known as Cool Britannia. It was featured in the documentary Live Forever: The Rise and Fall of Brit Pop as well.
The cryptic film title is a reference to a scene (not included in the film) in the original book, where Begbie and Renton meet 'an auld drunkard' who turns out to be Begbie's estranged father, in the disused Leith Central railway station, which they are using as a toilet. He asks them if they are "trainspottin'."
Irvine Welsh himself has explained in a Q&A that the title is also a reference to people thinking that the hobby of trainspotting makes no sense to non-participants. Likewise, the same applies to heroin addiction: to non-addicts the act seems completely pointless whereas, to someone hooked on heroin, it makes absolute sense.
Trainspotting was nominated for three British Academy Film Awards in 1995, including John Hodge for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film and Best British Film. Hodge won in his category. Hodge also won Best Screenplay from the Evening Standard British Film Awards. The film won the Golden Space Needle (the award for Best Film) at the 1996 Seattle International Film Festival. Ewan McGregor was named Best Actor from the London Film Critics Circle, BAFTA Scotland Awards, and Empire magazine. Hodge was also nominated for an Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay but failed to win.
Boyle has declared his wish to make a sequel to Trainspotting which would take place nine years after the original film, based on Irvine Welsh's sequel, Porno. He was reportedly waiting until the original actors themselves aged visibly enough to portray the same characters, ravaged by time; Boyle joked that the natural vanity of actors would make it a long wait. Ewan McGregor has stated in recent interviews that he would return for a sequel saying "I'm totally up for it. I'd be so chuffed to be back on set with everybody and I think it would be an extraordinary experience.".
In 2013, Boyle said he wants to make a sequel that would be loosely based on Porno which he has described as “not a great book in the way that Trainspotting, the original novel, is genuinely a masterpiece”. Boyle says that if the sequel happens 2016 would be the release.
In July 2013 at the San Diego Comic-Con, Carlyle confirmed that the sequel will happen.
- "TRAINSPOTTING (18)". PolyGram Filmed Entertainment. British Board of Film Classification. 15 December 1995. Retrieved 22 September 2013.
- Alexander Walker, Icons in the Fire: The Rise and Fall of Practically Everyone in the British Film Industry 1984–2000, Orion Books, 2005 p. 237.
- "Genres in transition". British National Cinema, by Sarah Street, Published by Routledge, 1997. ISBN 0-415-06735-9. Page 111.
- "Trainspotting wins best film poll". News.BBC.co.uk. 24 February 2004. Retrieved 6 December 2010.
- Grundy, Gareth (February 1998). "Hey! Hey! We're the Junkies!". Neon. p. 102.
- Gordinier, Jeff (2 August 1996). "Stupor Heroes". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 9 September 2009.
- "Trainspotting". Empire. June 1999. p. 128.
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- Power, Carla; Thomas, Dana (15 July 1996). "Track Stars". Newsweek. Retrieved 16 April 2009.
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- Petrie, Duncan J (2004). "Contemporary Scottish Fictions—Film, Television, and the Novel: Film, Television and the Novel". Edinburgh University Press. pp. 101–102.
- "Trainspotting". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 16 April 2009.
- Lash, Scott; Lury Celia (2007) Global Culture Industry: The Mediation of Things, Polity, ISBN 978-0-7456-2482-2, p. 167.
- Malcolm, Derek (22 February 1996). "Trainspotting". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 16 April 2009.
- Jeffries, Neil. "Trainspotting". Empire. Retrieved 16 April 2009.
- Ebert, Roger (26 July 1996). "Trainspotting". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 16 April 2009.
- Turan, Kenneth (19 July 1996). "Trainspotting". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 16 April 2009.[dead link]
- Gleiberman, Owen (19 July 1996). "Trainspotting". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 16 April 2009.
- Maslin, Janet (19 July 1996). "Bad Taste in a Vile Story Doesn't Rule Out Fun". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 April 2009.
- Travers, Peter (8 August 1996). "Trainspotting". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 16 April 2009.
- Howe, Desson (26 July 1996). "Trainspotting: A Wild Ride". Washington Post. Retrieved 16 April 2009.
- Rosenbaum, Jonathan (26 July 1996). "Too High to Die". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 16 April 2009.
- Ross, Andrew (19 September 1996). "The fall and fall of Bob Dole". Salon.com. Retrieved 11 January 2012.
- "The Best of Cinema 1996". Time. 23 December 1996. Retrieved 16 April 2009.
- James, Nick (September 2002). "Nul Britannia". Sight and Sound. Retrieved 10 September 2009.
- "The Observer Film Quarterly's best British films of the last 25 years". The Observer (London). 30 August 2009. Retrieved 31 August 2009.
- "Trainspotting wins best film poll". BBC. 24 February 2004. Retrieved 10 September 2009.
- Catterall, Ali; Simon Wells (2002). "Your Face Here: British Cult Movies Since the Sixties". Fourth Estate. p. 233.
- Welsh, 1997, Trainspotting, p. 309.
- "Trainspotting". British Film Institute. Retrieved 10 September 2009.
- Howie, Michael; Schofield, Kevin (13 January 2009). "Scotsman.com News". Edinburgh: News.Scotsman.com. Retrieved 3 April 2009.
- "Danny Boyle Planning for TRAINSPOTTING Sequel in 2016 with Original Cast: "You Want to Make Sure You Don’t Disappoint People"". Collider.com. 11 March 2013. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
- Smith, Murray (2002). Trainspotting. BFI Publishing. ISBN 978-0-85170-870-6.
- Welsh, Irvine (1997). Trainspotting. Minerva. ISBN 978-0-7493-8520-0.
- Further reading
- Trainspotting, by Fredric Dannen, John Hodge, Barry Long, Irvine Welsh. Published by Hyperion, 1997. ISBN 0-7868-8221-2.
- Trainspotting screenplay by John Hodge.
- Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting: A Reader's Guide, by Robert A. Morace. Published by Continuum International Publishing Group, 2001. ISBN 0-8264-5237-X.
- Working-class Fiction: From Chartism to Trainspotting, by Ian Haywood. Published by Northcote House in association with the British Council, 1997. ISBN 0-7463-0780-2.
- Trainspotting: Director, Danny Boyle, by Martin Stollery. Published by Longman, 2001. ISBN 0-582-45258-9.
- Welsh Warner and Cinematic Adaptation Contemporary Scottish Fictions—Film, Television, and the Novel: Film, Television and the Novel, by Duncan J. Petrie. Published by Edinburgh University Press, 2004.ISBN 0-7486-1789-2. Page 101-102.
- Screening Trainspotting Irvine Welsh, by Aaron Kelly. Published by Manchester University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-7190-6651-4. Page 68.
- Trainspotting and My Name is Joe Hooked: Drug War Films in Britain, Canada, and the US, by Susan C. Boyd. Published by Routledge, 2008. ISBN 0-415-95706-0. Page 169.
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- Official website
- Trainspotting at the Internet Movie Database
- Trainspotting at Box Office Mojo
- Trainspotting at Rotten Tomatoes
- Trainspotting at Metacritic
- Article on Trainspotting at MetaPhilm
- Review: Trainspotting at Counter Culture
- BBC Films review – Trainspotting Definitive Edition DVD (1996)