It was the box-office smash that turned a Scottish literary sensation into one of the most iconic British movies of all-time.
A quarter of a century after Trainspotting arrived in cinemas, its influence is still strongly felt, from the streets of Leith to Scotland’s film festivals. It is still regularly voted one of the best British films of all-time.
Released during a mid-1990s golden age for Scottish cinema, just months after Braveheart, Trainspotting was unlike anything that had been seen on screen before.
Launched with multiple premieres on the one night in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and a star-studded party in Cannes, its impact on Scottish culture has certainly not been surpassed since.
Although it will forever be linked to the Cool Britannia era of mid-1990s culture in the UK – partly thanks to the presence of Britpop bands like Pulp, Blur, Elastica and Sleeper on its soundtrack – its origins were in the late 1980s and early 1990s underground rave and publishing scenes in Edinburgh.
Leith-born Irvine Welsh drew on his experiences of being brought up in the Muirhouse estate for Trainspotting, extracts of which were published in the magazine Rebel Inc, before the book was released to critical acclaim and huge word-of-mouth buzz in 1993.
Less than two years later, an Edinburgh-set thriller, Shallow Grave, announced the arrival of new British director Danny Boyle, producer Andrew Macdonald, screenwriter John Hodge and Scottish star Ewan McGregor. All four were to reunite for Trainspotting, along Ewen Bremner, who had starred in the stage adaptation of Welsh’s book, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle and Kelly Macdonald, a total newcomer who had an answered an advert for a open casting session. The success of the book and Shallow Grave, combined with a striking poster campaign, meant expectations were sky high.
Allan Hunter, film critic and co-director of the Glasgow Film Festival, recalled: “Trainspotting felt like an explosion of fireworks on a dull grey sky when it arrived.
“Danny Boyle’s bravura direction brings such energy and drive to the story. It made British films (and Scottish films) seem cool. The marketing was so slick and unforgettable. It became the film that everyone wanted to be associated with.
“It really was a hurricane that blew all the cobwebs away and it became a symbol of social and political change in a country heading towards the election of Tony Blair and the giddy days of Cool Britannia.”
Filmmaker Mark Cousins, director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival from 1996-97, said: “It felt that a spotlight was put on Edinburgh.
“People knew that the city was cultured, beautiful, and a place of festivals, but we were seen as a bit Brigadoon – sleepy then bursting into life in August.
“Trainspotting was hyper, local, fizzy and surreal. It made me feel young, cinematic and dangerous.”
‘I spent months learning the flugelhorn – and I didn’t even have to play it’
Pete Postlethwaite, who was playing my father, took me down to Grimethorpe a week before filming to talk to locals and let them know this was their story. The miners were reticent at first. Not long before, a TV crew had stitched up the town, getting kids to throw stones at derelict buildings and making it seem as if it was a regular occurrence, as if Grimethorpe had become a wild west town. [ . . . ]
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The characters were people you felt you already knew. There was Begbie, played by Robert Carlyle, the booze-fuelled, unpredictable psycho, a small-town Scottish version of Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. Spud (Ewen Bremner): hapless, surreal, a lovable, smackhead loser. Sexy Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), out for whatever he could get, mostly women and drugs. And Renton, played by Ewan McGregor, the heroined-up antihero, who kept kicking drugs and then going back, and doing the same to his mates, until he finally robbed them all (except Spud) and ran away. [ . . . ] Read Full Story: Ewan McGregor: ‘What if I’m not Scottish enough any more?’ | Film | The Guardian