Twenty years have passed since Danny Boyle’s sensational original Trainspotting – so what has changed? A lot and nothing. The sequel, adapted from Irvine Welsh’s 2002 novel Porno, finds the four main characters venturing into the world of pornography. Actors Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle all reprise their roles. They may have aged, but the film is as stylish and adrenalised, as bold and fresh as its predecessor.
When we last saw the boys, Renton (Ewan McGregor) had stolen his pals’ money and fled. Now living in Amsterdam, he returns to Edinburgh to see his friends again. Spud (Ewen Bremner) is still trying to stay off heroin. Meanwhile, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), now know as Simon, pretends to be Renton’s friend but plots to get him involved in his brothel business plan, with his girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), and betray him to get revenge. Begbie (Robert Carlyle) breaks out of prison and is on the hunt for Renton and Spud.
Inevitably, the plot makes a lot of nods toward the original, as well as flashbacks to illustrate how their lives have changed or not, retaining some of the mocking sting of the original film. They seem all to have reached the apex of their male middle-age crises at once, crises so recognisable that you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. You are asked to do both. Trapped by their past, it seems harder to build a future, and the heroin is there again. The choose life’s mantra is reprised, the ironic prayer of the power of dreaming.
The soundtrack features classics from the original: Underworld close with “Slow Slippy” (a variation on “Born Slippy”), “Lust For Life” by Iggy Pop is present in a remix by the Prodigy), there’s also Queen “Radio Ga Ga” and Blondie’s “Dreaming”, and The Clash, alongside these is new music by Young Fathers (with three songs), Fat White Family and Wolf Alice.
It was never all about drugs. The original Trainspotting poked around in what was left of Thatcherism. Twenty years on, Danny Boyle strikes harder, identifying present discontents, mixing emotion and innovation. It’s a piece of urban anthropology, a puzzle of modern poetry, and a partner to a British classic.