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Trainspotting (1996)

Courtesy of Channel 4 Television

Main image of Trainspotting (1996)
DirectorDanny Boyle
Production CompanyFigment Films
In association withNoel Gay Motion Picture Company
ForChannel Four
ProducerAndrew Macdonald
ScreenplayJohn Hodge
From the novel byIrvine Welsh
CinematographyBrian Tufano

Cast: Ewan McGregor (Renton); Ewen Bremner (Spud); Jonny Lee Miller (Sick Boy); Kevin McKidd (Tommy); Robert Carlyle (Begbie); Kelly Macdonald (Diane); Peter Mullan (Swanney); Irvine Welsh (Mikey)

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The cult success of Shallow Grave (1994) meant that the next project of the Figment Films team - Danny Boyle (director), Andrew Macdonald (producer) and John Hodge (writer) - was keenly anticipated. They had received plenty of offers, both domestically and from Hollywood, but wanted to maintain their independence.

Macdonald was the first member of the team to be seduced by Irvine Welsh's novel, Trainspotting. Welsh, sceptical of London bigwigs, had rejected many previous offers but the boyish Scottish charm of Macdonald and Hodge persuaded him to relinquish his baby - under the proviso that they didn't take the "Ken Loach semi-documentary approach."

By the mid-1990s, drugs had well and truly permeated everyday middle-class life. After the media uproar and youth embrace that had greeted the Ecstasy/Acid House relationship, people had realised that drugs weren't confined to the realms of the impoverished and socially excluded.

Of course, Trainspotting deals with heroin rather than Ecstasy but it was this social environment that allowed a film without an overtly moralistic approach to drugs to be made. Trainspotting also encompasses the mentality of the acid culture - drugs-for-fun, hedonism and deliberate youthful rebellion. The links between heroin abuse and the club scene are made more obvious when Renton (Ewan McGregor) visits a London nightspot. Surrounded by thumping house music and anxiously dancing punters, he finds empathy: "In a thousand years there'll be no girls and no guys, just wankers," a thought he finds rather appealing.

Trainspotting takes a pragmatic approach to drug use, capturing the exhausting, intensely uncomfortable daily routine of a group of heroin addicts. They stay together because of this common goal and it is not an attractive sight. Nonetheless, Boyle combines the macabre with the comical, and blurs the boundaries between realism and fantasy - notably in the scene where Renton to retrieve a lost suppository plunges through the 'worst toilet in Scotland' and into a deep blue abyss.

Heroin is an escape for the protagonists - both from the responsibilities of life and from the restricting paths society has mapped out for them. Trainspotting does not glamorise drug abuse, but still manages to force us to look at the reasons behind it. Renton's narration confirms his hatred of the mundane existence Britain offers and the film's power lies in its ability to make us question the values we have been taught to hold dear - materialism, career, marriage, children. Are these dubious aspirations after all?

Paul Clarke

*This film is the subject of a BFI Modern Classics book by Murray Smith.

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Video Clips
1. Choose life (1:35)
2. The worst toilet in Scotland (2:57)
4. Diane (1:55)
5. Visiting Mother Superior (3:45)
Production stills
Kill the Day (1997)
Boyle, Danny (1956-)
Bremner, Ewen (1970-)
Carlyle, Robert (1961-)
Henderson, Shirley (1965-)
Hodge, John (1963-)
Macdonald, Andrew (1966-)
Macdonald, Kelly (1976-)
McGregor, Ewan (1971-)
McKidd, Kevin (1973-)
Miller, Jonny Lee (1972-)
Mullan, Peter (1959-)
Tufano, Brian (1939-)
Channel 4 Films/Film on Four/FilmFour
Channel 4 and Film
Trainspotting: Begbie
Trainspotting: Diane
Trainspotting: Renton
Trainspotting: Sick Boy
Trainspotting: Spud
Trainspotting: Tommy