Trainspotting (Film)

Trainspotting (Film) Study Guide

Trainspotting is a British black comedy by Danny Boyle, released in 1996. It starred Ewan McGregor, Johnny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner, Kevin McKidd, and Kelly Macdonald, in an ensemble cast led by McGregor’s protagonist, Mark Renton.

The script was based on the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh. Producer Andrew Macdonald read the book on an airplane in December 1993 and felt immediately that it could be made into a film. He persuaded director Danny Boyle and writer John Hodge, with whom he worked on Boyle's film Shallow Grave (1995), to take it on in February 1994. Boyle convinced Irvine Welsh to let them option the rights to the book, telling him that they aimed to make a wide-reaching film that everyone, not just the art-house audience, would see. The film came after a relatively successful stage adaptation in the UK, which starred Ewen Bremner as Renton, who would be cast as Spud in the film. Many characters and narratives from the original novel were dropped to create a script of reasonable length.

Hodge’s and Boyle’s script and characters were inspired by earlier films about youthful rebellion, like The Hustler (1961) and A Clockwork Orange (1971). He modeled Renton’s character loosely on Alex DeLarge from A Clockwork Orange, saying that he wanted the character to be simultaneously repulsive and charming, making the audience feel ambiguously about him. He also had the cast watch such films to prepare for their roles.

Though the film was made immediately after Boyle’s critically successful Shallow Grave, it was still produced independently and with a limited budget. Though it is set in Edinburgh, most of the filming was done in Glasgow, and indoor scenes were shot on sets built in an abandoned cigarette factory. However, MacDonald did secure relatively large marketing and distribution budgets from Miramax and PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, enabling a box office release closer to a Hollywood blockbuster than an independent European production. It ended up grossing 72 million USD internationally, making it the highest-grossing British film of the year.

Upon its release, Trainspotting was widely acclaimed by critics in the UK and abroad, with few exceptions. Boyle earned comparisons to Scorsese and Tarantino, and McGregor’s performance launched him to international stardom. The film met with some criticism by politicians in several English-speaking nations for supposedly promoting or romanticizing drug use, but such critiques were largely written off as having missed the point. Trainspotting was nominated for an Academy Award and a BAFTA for John Hodge's adapted screenplay, as well as a BAFTA for Best British Film. It won the BAFTA for Best Adapted Screenplay, as well as several other awards from critics circles and smaller film festivals. It has been ranked 10th by the British Film Institute in its list of the 100 Greatest British Movies of all time.