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Choose your future. Choose life 

Year: 1995 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (XWide) 
Certificate: BBFC 18 Cert – Not suitable for under 18s 
Subtitles: This film is not expected to be subtitled, though this cannot be guaranteed. 
Directed by Danny Boyle 
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Johnny Lee Miller, Kelly Macdonald  
An image from Trainspotting

There‘s no other work of cinema quite like Trainspotting, Danny Boyle‘s reworking of Irvine Welsh‘s blistering novel of the same name. Many other films have tackled the prickly subjects of drug addiction, disaffected youth and disdain for consumerism, yet arguably, none have dealt with these topics in such a smart, stylish, and remarkably entertaining fashion as this one.

Pulsing to a magnificent soundtrack ripped from the ‘80s and ‘90s, Boyle‘s adaptation zips as breezily as the lightweight, skinheaded Ewan McGregor fronting its posters. McGregor plays Mark Renton, a wiry Scottish youth who divides his time between cheating the benefits system and attempting to kick a nasty addiction to heroin. Pacing the streets of Edinburgh during the economic downturn of the late 1980s, Renton and his motley coterie of “so-called mates” embark on a series of various schemes and enterprises, which land them in situations both hilarious and horrifying.

The film‘s relatively loose narrative tug allows its main focus to be placed firmly on its characters and its examination of the period, which is rendered in beautifully stark detail. Trainspotting fizzes with visual brilliance, balancing its themes of self-destruction and redemption against a quintessentially British backdrop of glamorous grit. Its heavy subject matter is certainly sobering at times, but thanks to Boyle‘s Midas touch, the film is a riot throughout its runtime, never once descending into heavy-handed patronising.

In short, it‘s an electrifying mixture of pathos and boundless energy. Choose your future. Choose life. And choose Trainspotting. You won‘t regret it.

Michael Perry

A classic of British cinema, Trainspotting depicts the wild antics and surreal escapades of Mark Renton (McGregor), a heroin addict attempting to wean himself off drugs but failing miserably under the influence of his friends. Manoeuvring between an affair with an underage girl and plans for a heist to buy more drugs, Renton finds himself questioning reality and struggling with his identity in a commercialised and predictably boring world. Adapted from the novel by Irvine Welsh, since its release Trainspotting has taken its place as one of the greatest cult films of the last 15 years.

Gritty, shocking, and somehow sublimely hilarious, Trainspotting manages to blend the madness and exhilaration of an unconventional life. Far from preachy, the film manages to draw the viewer into a world where drugs create the rules to the beat of an addictive soundtrack. Moreover, its effortless stylishness and warped depictions of reality bear witness to the creative genius of director Danny Boyle, who went on to direct Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours, in bringing to life eccentric and peculiar stories. Not unlike drugs, Trainspotting‘s in-your-face and down to earth coarseness will knock you off your feet only to have you begging for more.

Ana Paula Pereira de Souza

The fierce originality and provocative plotline of Shallow Grave won‘t even begin to prepare you for the experience that is Trainspotting. (There isn't a single moment dedicated to the eponymous worthwhile hobby — shame.) The gorgeous, too-good-to-be-true team of director Boyle and producer MacDonald have conjured up another hit with this flashily told story of drug addiction in 80s Edinburgh…

Adapted from the seemingly unfilmable Irvine Welsh novel, this bleak and unrelenting vision of Renton and his whole sick crew of druggies from hell (or Edinburgh – they're interchangeable) packs a visceral punch, and will leave a deep impression on your psyche. Add to that an exciting soundtrack from the likes of Leftfield and Iggy Pop (oh dear), and you've got an unforgettable retinal orgy.

No moral stance is taken, and the ending will have the puritanical moral-guardians of the Whitehouse ilk gibbering into their knitting. McGregor is impressive, as is Jonny Lee Miller (also appearing in this term‘s flashy computer flick Hackers) and the rest of the quirky, extremely watchable ensemble cast. I don‘t need to tell you to go and see this movie – it‘s the British filmic event of the year (sorely cheated at Oscar night), and knocking spots off of the Merchant-Ivory polite costume yawn-fests (see Sense and Sensibility for an example) we've been splattered with over the years. Oh, and all you girls (or guys, let‘s be fair – Ed.) who are interested – Ewan gets his nob out.

Conrad Jarret

Precisely how Trainspotting got to be such a success is puzzling. Nobody should have known that it‘s a great film, because they should have run away screaming from a bleak film about heroin addiction, dysfunctional friendships and betrayal. Thanks to a stylish ad campaign – now ripped off ad nauseaum – people actually went to see Trainspotting, and found out that none of the above matters, because it‘s vibrant, dynamic, exciting, and full of scabrously funny black humour. This is clear from the beginning, when Renton (McGregor) runs down Edinburgh‘s Princes Street, a wickedly delighted smile on his face, with various shoplifted items littering his trail and an enraged security guard in tow (a cameo from screenplay writer John Hodge).

The script provides ample opportunity for a clutch of brilliant performances. Renton is defiantly played as an anti-hero, but Bremner is wonderful as Spud, the likeable loser. In a side-splittingly funny sequence, he does an interview on speed, bouncing up and down in his chair in irrepressible enthusiasm. No matter how much you dislike Renton, though, you have to side with him is his loathing of Sick Boy (Miller), a man who lives to irritate – apart from his constant success with woman, he gives up heroin just to prove himself stronger than Renton. Carlyle turns in a performance of comic-book proportions as Begbie, starting pub fights and convincing his mates to mug hapless American tourists in search of tartan-and-shortbread.

The film is visually inventive too. At times the look is a heightened, stylised brand of gritty realism, while at others the sets glow with saturated blues and reds and greens, in a twisted parody of light through stained glass windows. Then the two are mixed - when Renton dives into a filthy, overflowing toilet to rescue two opium suppositories, grit gives way to fantasy as he swims through tropically blue water to find the suppositories nestled on the ‘seabed’ like a pair of pearls. The camerawork and editing are stunning, giving the film much of its energy.

Trainspotting took from the best of British film – A Clockwork Orange and Alfie – and is now giving back: witness the black, white and yellow posters for Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, or the thumping anachronistic soundtrack for Plunkett and Macleane. Despite the ensuing flood of Britflicks, Trainspotting retains its unique character and genius, one of the seminal films of the Nineties.

Katherine Shaw

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Screenings of this film:

1996/1997 Autumn Term (35mm)
1996/1997 Autumn Term (35mm)
1996/1997 Autumn Term (35mm)
1996/1997 Autumn Term (35mm)
1997/1998 Autumn Term (35mm)
1999/2000 Autumn Term (35mm)
2005/2006 Spring Term (35mm)
2013/2014 Spring Term (digital)
2016/2017 Summer Term (digital)