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.”
Home to portraits, rare books and personal objects including Burns’ writing desk, the printing press on which Scott’s Waverley Novels were first produced, and the rocking horse he used as a child. We have Robert Louis Stevenson’s riding boots and the ring given to him by a Samoan chief, engraved with the name ‘Tusitala’, meaning ‘teller of tales’. There is also a plaster cast of Robert Burns’ skull, one of only three ever made.
This free museum is easy to locate just off the Lawnmarket, the top part of Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile, in Lady Stair’s Close.
With a wide range of stories and objects this museum has something for everyone to enjoy, whether young or old, local resident or visitor. You don’t need to have read these writers’ works to enjoy the fascinating life stories told in the Writers’ Museum.
Collection Highlights include:
The Writers’ rich collections include books, manuscripts, portraits and fascinating personal items relating to Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. Highlights include a first edition of Scott’s novel Waverley and Stevenson’s beloved classic, A Child’s Garden of Verses. Manuscripts include Burns’ draft of Scots wha hae (‘Bruce’s Address to his troops at Bannockburn’). There is also the press on which Scott’s Waverley Novels were printed, a chair used by Burns to correct proofs at William Smellie’s printing office, and Stevenson’s wardrobe made by the infamous Deacon Brodie whose double life may have inspired the novel The strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
A 29-year-old who was abducted, stabbed eight times and left for dead as a little girl is appealing to find a woman who “saved her life” 20 years ago.
Kitrina McKenzie was just nine when she was taken from the street outside her grandmother’s home in Longstone, forced onto a bus and taken to an underground car park at Edinburgh’s Fountain Park leisure complex to endure the terrifying ordeal in broad daylight.
Shockingly, her attacker Darren Cornelius was just 11 years old at the time.
Speaking to the Edinburgh Evening News nearly 20 years on, Kitrina recalled the horror of the stabbing and aftermath that day when he told her to “stay down there” while fleeing up some metal stairs leading to the car park’s emergency exit – but she managed to crawl up the steps and stagger towards a nearby bus stop.
Kitrina said: “A woman was standing at the bus stop at Fountain Park. She was on the phone and I remember her saying, ‘I need to go, a wee girl needs my help,’ and I told her I had been stabbed and I pulled up my top and then I passed out.”
It was a time when the people of Aberdeen lived in terror of bodysnatchers – the grave robbers who would dig up your recently deceased loved ones to be dissected at the hands of anatomists and medical students.
Added in to this febrile atmosphere, 190 years ago, was the national revulsion at Burke and Hare, convicted of murdering 16 people in Edinburgh and selling their corpses to the resurrection men.
Not, you might think, the best time to be making plans to open your own anatomy room in the Granite City – a place where students were already being chased and attacked as “Burkers”.
But, undaunted, famed doctor, Dr Andrew Moir pressed ahead with his vision to teach and show the workings of the human body, opening his Anatomical Theatre in 1831 on St Andrew’s Street, an imposing building with blacked-out windows, where the Sandman Signature Hotel now stands.
A month later, a furious baying mob set it ablaze, wrecked it and almost succeeded in demolishing it in a riot involving possibly as many as 20,000 angry citizens, enraged after a dog dug up human bones behind the grim building.
Dr Moir and his students fled for their lives and the medic was forced to flee the city for a while, reviled by the citizens of Aberdeen. Continue reading →