Saturday, 11 February 2017

T2: Trainspotting

My grandparents gave me a copy of Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting for my fourteenth birthday. I've never asked why the retired vicar and headmistress decided that it was time to acquaint me with the world of the criminal underclass. But once I entered that fictionalised world, I was hooked. I read everything else I could find by Welsh. I read Burroughs, Wolfe, Kesey, Kerouac, and numerous lesser authors who described this intensely exciting and seedy side of life. I revisited chapters of Trainspotting and read it through several more times. I got some way into an unfinished project to map out the relationships between all the characters, no matter how minor, in Welsh's Edinburgh (and London, and Amsterdam).

And when the movie appeared a couple of years later, I became obsessed with that too. Its soundtrack Elastica, Blur, Sleeper, Leftfield was already my soundtrack. Because of Pulp's song there is a photo of me at 16, awkwardly leaning against a station sign in Mile End tube station. Thirteen years later I lived there for a few months, and still enjoyed the association.

My obsession waned, but I've continued to read many of Welsh's books including Porno, and the more recent prequel Skagboys. (T2 draws on both of these, as well as parts of Trainspotting that didn't make it to the original movie.) And so in T2, when Sick Boy tells Begbie that Gav Temperley spotted Renton in an Edinburgh bar, I knew that Gav was distinguished by being one of few Welsh characters with a legitimate employment. He used to work for the dole office; I wonder what he's doing now.

So I had a deep stake in whether T2 was worthy of the name. And it isn't just the sequel whose reputation is at stake. A poor follow-up can taint the original forever. When I lived in Mile End, I went to see Kick-Ass twice; it was screened every few months after that in my home. But since we saw the mediocre follow-up, our bluray copy of Kick-Ass has languished in the attic, buried in an unmarked grave with Down in the Valley, Million Dollar Baby and others unlikely to make a reappearance on a rainy weekend afternoon.

Any reader still here, whether through patience or loyalty, may be asking why I'm claiming that this is a review of T2 rather than a rambling piece of personal nostalgia. It's a good question. It's the same question I was asking myself after the first half-hour of T2. I was worried. It seemed to be indulging and manipulating its audience's memories lazily, recapitulating themes and events without injecting anything exciting and new.

But now I realise that I'd misunderstood. As it continued, T2 drew me completely back in. Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie are so believably the projection of their former selves into the present day that I sank back into 2-for-1 cinema seat and lost myself in the drama. I left the cinema exhilarated, nostalgic, and content.

I don't know whether T2 would have as powerful an effect on those whose teenage years weren't so dominated by its predecessor. But if you're anything like me, you should go and see it at the cinema at your earliest opportunity. You know your twenty-years-younger version would insist on it.