How Worried Should We Be About The Trainspotting Sequel?

Not at all, if Danny Boyle pays attention to Irvine Welsh's brilliant follow up novel says Sam Parker

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Nothing about Cool Britannia is cool anymore. Britpop, Damien Hirst, Loaded magazine, Geri Halliwell's Union Jack dress… all have gone the way of Tony Blair and New Labour: embarrassing, even peered at through the twinkly prism of nostalgia. 

The exception is Trainspotting, the defining British film – and novel – of the 1990s, when everyone or their cool older cousin had that obnoxious and somehow scandalous orange poster of swearing Begbie, defiantly loutish Diane and Renton's shivering biceps on their bedroom wall.

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Trainspotting was a rare example of a brilliant book matched in quality and impact by its film adaptation, and the two shared a counter culture purpose: that is, directing a giant 'fuck off, ya wee radge' to a country in the midst of patting itself on the back. It was a reminder that for people from working class parts of the country, life was still hard. A booming economy wasn't making them less poor. Capitalism wasn't answering their spiritual needs. And outside the flush, cocaine-addled capital, taking drugs was still a full time job. 

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At the same time, life in Leith seemed funny and sexy and cool. Unlike the affecting but dour kitchen sink dramas being offered by Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, it was an underworld the middle classes wanted to inhabit, if only in fantasy. Even the soundtrack seemed cooler and more authentic than what was on offer elsewhere. 

All of which made Danny Boyle's announcement that the long-rumoured sequel T2 - the first teaser for which has just been released - will come out next year a cause for ambivalence. How can you follow a film that not so much captured the zeitgeist of an era as provided the most appropriate and enduring response to that zeitgeist? How could such a strange alchemy of source material, talent and context be replicated again? 

On one hand, an early check of the vital organs offers hope. The original director, screenwriter and cast are all on board. Not only does that offer continuity and talent, but also, you assume, a shared motivation not to screw things up: even for Boyle and McGregor, Trainspotting still represents a career highlight, a legacy they would hate to soil.

 

Then there is the book John Hodge has based his script on: Irvine Welsh's 2002 Trainspotting sequel Porno.

Porno is one of Welsh's most underrated books, his best after Glue and Trainspotting and arguably funnier than all three. It finds Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie at the fag end of their youth, estranged from one another until Sick Boy moves back to Leith to make amateur porn flicks and they are gradually sucked back into each other's orbit. 

It will be fascinating for Welsh fans to see how closely Hodge follows the plot of Porno. Will we see 'Juice' Terry Lawson, Sick Boy's lead performer and Welsh's most idiosyncratic and beloved character to date? How much room will there be for the quiet, subtle but beautifully-judged story line of Spud's separation from Alison and his kid and his doomed efforts to write a history book?

Who will play Nikki, the student-turned-porn-star, and will her motivations be explored as thoroughly as they are in the novel? She is the potential banana skin for a film that will find itself judged in a very different Britain to the original: one where expectations of female characters are higher and any reductive portrayals will be rightly brought to book. 

Perhaps Boyle should follow Welsh's lead closely. Porno wasn't an effort to replicate the grit and energy of his first and greatest hit. Instead, it was a slower meditation on ageing, shifting priorities and the strain placed on friendships by shared pasts. There is sex and drugs, but the characters are largely disillusioned with both. With the exception of Begbie, more off the rails than ever, the main characters have grown up and become more reflective – jaded, even.

T2 can't be the Trainspotting of the 2010s. That is for another film, from other storytellers. But it can be a wise and funny look at four of the best characters to ever come out of modern British fiction, and the long hangover the country was left with after the 1990s. A film, not cool perhaps, but significant. It is in the best possible hands, so let's hope.

This is an updated version of an article that first appeared on Esquire in 2015.

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