“The world kept moving forward - and we didnae”, Chris Bambery finds a lot to like in the recently released Trainspotting sequel CONTAINS SPOILERS
Opportunity followed by betrayal and a sense of loss are the themes underlying ‘T2 Trainspotting’. We meet up two decades later with the quartet of characters from the original film – Renton (now Mark), Sick Boy (now Simon), Spud and Begbie.
Every review mentions the trepidation the reviewer felt about how the sequel to such a successful film would turn out. Reviews have been mixed, though generally favourable. I like it a lot. One reason is that it is set in my native city, Edinburgh, though not the one tourists are likely to visit.
The first film concluded with Renton stinging his three fiends at the end of a drug deal. This betrayal would wound the friends, especially Renton, for years to come.
The sense of regret is there from the start, when Renton returns to Edinburgh for the first time in twenty years. At the airport he’s greeted by a young woman from the city’s tourist office wearing a tartan mini skirt. Puzzled he asks here where she’s from and she replies, “Sardinia.” His Edinburgh has changed.
Having intervened in a suicide attempt by the still-addicted Spud, Mark seeks out Simon who is not in a forgiving mood.
After a savage fight, Mark hands over the £4K that is Simon’s share of the original deal. But this won’t placate Simon. As he explains to Veronica, the Bulgarian sex worker he is trying to pimp, what’s he supposed to do with it, buy a time machine?
He sets out to cosy up to Mark so he can ultimately double-cross him.
The story line is how these two will end up back together, despite their hopes othwerwise. At one stage Simon tells Mark, “You’re a tourist in your own youth.” But he is just as much as Mark.
There is a constant reminder of their mutual support for Hibernian FC AKA Hibs, the “other,” Catholic team in Edinburgh. In the novel, ‘Trainspotting’, Renton explains he chose to support Hibs because they were outsiders and he identified with them.
Underlying the sense of loss and dashed hopes is a sense of working class disintegration. It’s summed up in the rundown pub Simon has inherited from its aunt, inhabited by ghosts. The film cuts to home footage of it when Simon and Mark were wee boys, full of happy customers, dancing and enjoying the crack. Begbie tells his wife and son: “The world kept moving forward, and we didnae.”
This is a city of light and dark; a recurring motif in Edinburgh literature, most notably in Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Burke and Hare’. The scene were Mark and Spud go jogging up Arthur’s Seat on a warm sunny day, and rest at the summit gazing out onto the city and the Firth of Forth contrasts with the dark Streets and high rises of Granton and Leith.
In this film those streets also contrast with the up-and-coming, gentrified city and parts of Leith. There is fragility about these wine bars, shops and restaurants, as if they are not built to last. It suggests both insecurity and transience.
The film’s funniest moment is when Mark and Simon visit a Loyalist bar in Glasgow to carry out a heist, but challenged have to perform a song for the crowd. Mark’s voiceover introducing the scene makes the point as to how marginalised these bigots are in Scotland today. A massive shift from my youth, let alone these characters.
But returning to the foursome, each have regrets over parenthood: Mark because his collapsed fifteen year long relationship produced no children; Simon because he never sees his child; Spud because his wife and son due to his heroin addiction; and Begbie because his son grew up while he was in prison.
A lot of reviewers were critical of director Danny Boyle’s portrayal of the women characters but I like the way Veronika was portrayed. She is the one who takes opportunity from betrayal, and she escapes the gothic Edinburgh to return to the sun and her son in Bulgaria. She is also the source of Spud’s redemption.
All in all this is a film which is funny at times but also poignant: lost time and resigned regret permeate.
Chris Bambery is an author, political activist and commentator, and a supporter of Rise, the radical left wing coalition in Scotland. His books include A People's History of Scotland and The Second World War: A Marxist Analysis.