Back in 1996, British filmmaker Danny Boyle traversed the cultural zeitgiest with his black comedy/drama Trainspotting. Starring Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Johnny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle and Kelly MacDonald, the film, based on the novel by Irvine Welsh, follows a cadre of heroin users in a working class neighborhood of Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh. Two decades later, Boyle has reassembled the posse for T2 Trainspotting as a follow-up, which had its international premiere at the recent Berlin International Film Festival.
“We tried for a long time to call it something else,” explained Boyle at the Berlinale during a conversation with press about T2 Trainspotting, which opens in late March in the U.S. “We wanted to make a film independent of the first, but still having a ‘conversation’ with the original. We suggested call it, ‘The Least Unfamiliar,’ but you can imagine the silence in the room when we proposed that title…”
Written by John Hodge, who did the original, T2 borrows from Welsh’s 1993 novel and its 2002 sequel, Porno. In his review of the new installment, The Guardian said that the film may “may lack the vampiric teeth of its youthful predecessor,” but is a, “worthy sequel to what has become a sacred original, respecting the rough edges of its forerunner while putting middle-aged flesh on the once raw ribcages of its oddly sympathetic subjects.”
While twenty years have passed and times have changed, much nevertheless remains the same for the Trainspotting folks in T2. Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns home and risks the wrath of his friends years after knicking the £16,000 of heroin money where audiences last left off in Trainspotting. His return ushers in a cascade of events. Simon “Sick Boy” (Jonny Lee Miller) greets him with a punch in the face. Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is behind bars and still has his violent temper. Renton, meanwhile, goes to visit Spud (Ewen Bremner) and finds him attempting suicide. Along with the reunions come the familiar vengeance, hatred, friendship, love, fear, regret, diamorphine, self-destruction and mortal danger.
“When I finally sent the actors the script, I knew they would want to do it and they did, and now we find ourselves here,” said Boyle in Berlin. “What has changed here is John Hodge wrote something more personal than we expected, so the key was unlocking it. There’s an anxiety about age, manhood and disappointment, and that was the focus. The actors themselves also placed their own experience with aging into their characters.”
In the years since the first Trainspotting, Danny Boyle has received three Oscar nominations including a win for Best Director for Slumdog Millionaire in 2009 — a film that also took best feature that year. His first film, Shallow Grave, won the BAFTA Award for Best British Film and was the most commercially successful U.K. title of 1995. Following Trainspotting, Boyle directed the adaptation of the cult novel The Beach, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio. Other films he directed en route to T2 were Millions (2004) Sunshine (2007), 127 Hours (2010) and the bio-drama Steve Jobs starring Michael Fassbender as the legendary Apple founder.
His moviemaking experience since the first Trainspotting has obviously refined Boyle, but twenty years later, the Trainspotting actors said Boyle’s energy still hypnotized the set.
“Danny has a unique energy he brings to his work and ability to galvanize his enthusiasm,” said actor Ewen Bremner. “We were a lot younger 21 years ago and Danny was flying on a spontaneous energy that was infectious and powering the film. This time around, he has honed that energy like an athlete. There was so much in this film that wasn’t in the script. It just existed in his head. I’ve never seen someone accomplish in a day what he does.”
T2 Trainspotting opened at home in the U.K. in late January and has so far been a hit with audiences there, grossing close to $17 million according to box office website The Numbers. While The Guardian enthused about the film, Variety had a more mixed outlook ahead of its Berlin premiere noting, “Beneath all this surface, the connections are loose, the stakes are low, and those who have simply been waiting 20 years to hang out with these lads and their frequently crackling banter will be essentially satisfied from the moment Boyle teases us with the introductory clatter of Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’ on the soundtrack…”
Any follow-up to a film that helped define a decade would stand tough scrutiny. In Berlin, actor Jonny Lee Miller threw some caution to the wind, suggesting viewers see T2 on its own terms and took some issue that it should be judged as a sequel.
“The first one was a magical mix of good writing and had a zeitgeist affecting people at the right time. There’s no way you can create that lightning in a bottle again. It’s not a sequel. It’s a post mortem if you like.”