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Trainspotting is a 1996 Scottish film directed by Danny Boyle based on the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh. The movie follows a group of heroin addicts in a late 1980s economically depressed area of Edinburghmarker and their passage through life. The film stars Ewan McGregor as Mark Renton, Ewen Bremner as Spud, Jonny Lee Miller as Sick Boy, Kevin McKidd as Tommy, Robert Carlyle as Begbie, and Kelly Macdonald as Diane. Author Irvine Welsh also has a cameo appearance as hapless drug dealer Mikey Forrester.

The Academy Award-nominated screenplay, by John Hodge, was adapted from Welsh's novel. It does not contain any references to the hobby of train spotting. The title is a reference to an episode in the original book (not included in the film) where Begbie and Renton meet "an auld drunkard" who turns out to be Begbie's estranged father, in the disused Leith Central railway stationmarker, which they are visiting to use as a toilet. He asks them if they are "trainspottin'." The title also relates to obsessive behavior and to a slang term to inject or "mainline" heroin. Beyond drug addiction, other concurrent themes in the film are exploration of the urban poverty and squalor, in "culturally rich" Edinburgh.

The film has been ranked 10th spot by the British Film Institute (BFI) in its list of Top 100 British films of all time. The film was voted in 2004 the best Scottish film of all time.

The plot

Set in Edinburghmarker, the film begins with a narration from Mark Renton (McGregor) while he and his friend Spud (Bremner) run down Princes Streetmarker pursued by security guards. Renton states that unlike people who "choose life" (i.e. a traditional family lifestyle with children, financial stability and material possessions), he and his friends prefer to live in a constant drug haze. We are introduced to his friends: con artist Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), clean-cut footballer Tommy (McKidd) and violent sociopath Francis Begbie (Carlyle). Sick Boy, Spud and Renton are all heroin addicts, while Tommy and Begbie openly criticize heroin use.

In the second scene, Renton decides to quit heroin. He buys opium rectal suppositories from Mikey Forrester (Irvine Welsh) which he uses right away, but has to retrieve them from a filthy lavatory when he is struck with diarrhea. After this "final hit", he locks himself into a room to undergo withdrawal.

After quitting heroin, Renton continues to struggle as he's forced to adapt to the conventional lifestyle from which he has become so disconnected. His "friendship" with Begbie is illustrated when Begbie casually throws his pint glass off a bar balcony, injuring a woman and causing a violent brawl. Renton later joins his friends and goes to a dance club in pursuit of sex. Spud gets drunk and is dragged home by his girlfriend, Gail (Shirley Henderson). When Gail tries to have sex, Spud passes out and defecates all over her bed. Tommy goes home with his girlfriend Lizzy (Pauline Lynch) but this results in a violent argument when they discover that a sex tape they had made of themselves has gone missing (in an earlier scene, Renton steals the tape). Tommy mistakenly believes he accidentally returned the video to the rental store, this eventually causes Lizzy to break up with him.

At the club, Renton flirts with a girl named Diane (Macdonald), who quickly dissects his bad chat-up lines, but takes him home anyway. After the two have sex, Diane refuses to let Renton sleep in her bed; the next morning, Renton discovers that this is because Diane is actually a schoolgirl living with her parents and under the age of consent. Diane then blackmails him into staying in contact lest she call the police and inform them of their one-night stand.

Tired of sobriety, Sick Boy, Spud and Renton decide to get back on heroin. Through a montage we see them taking and dealing drugs and stealing to fund their habit. Renton narrates that they tried all chemicals available in the streets, claiming "we would've injected Vitamin C if only they'd made it illegal." Depressed after having been dumped by his girlfriend, Tommy also takes up heroin, which Renton reluctantly supplies him with. Their heroin-induced stupor is violently interrupted when fellow junkie Allison discovers that her baby daughter, Dawn, has died from neglect; Dawn had stayed in the flat with them but they had been too high to look after her. All are horrified, especially Sick Boy, who is revealed as Dawn's father.

Renton and Spud are later caught stealing from a shop and are pursued by security guards and captured, as seen in the opening scene of the film. Spud is given a prison sentence but Renton avoids punishment by enlisting in a Drug Interventions Programme, where he is put through a gradual rehabilitation and supplied with methadone.

Despite support from his friends and parents, Renton is continually depressed and ends up back in the flat of his dealer Swanney (Peter Mullan) after running away from rehab. He takes too much heroin and overdoses — Swanney puts him in a taxi and the driver leaves him on the ground outside a hospital, where his life is saved. Seeing no other option, Renton's parents take him home and lock him in his own bedroom to beat the addiction cold turkey.

Renton lies in his bed and goes through severe withdrawal symptoms, and sees several hallucinations, including Begbie threatening to "kick [the heroin] out" of his system, Spud in chains, and Tommy, who is now an addict. Finally Renton sees Dawn, Allison's dead baby, crawling toward him on the ceiling while he screams and cries for his mother. This is inter-cut with a bizarre imagined TV game show in which the host Dale Winton asks Renton's mother and father, "Is he guilty… or not guilty?".

Clean of heroin, Renton feels no purpose in life. He visits Tommy, who had tested positive for HIV, in his dark and filthy apartment. On Diane's advice, Renton moves to Londonmarker and starts a job as a property letting agent. He continues his sobriety while enjoying the vibrancy of London and saving up money on the side, while corresponding with Diane. His happiness is again short-lived, however; Begbie commits an armed robbery and arrives at Renton's London flat seeking a hiding place from the police. Sick Boy also shows up and Renton feels increasingly frustrated that he cannot turn his "mates" away, despite the fact that they steal from him, wreck his flat and are a general nuisance. Seeking to be rid of them, he puts them up in a property he is responsible for until they learn of Tommy's death from toxoplasmosis and travel back to Scotlandmarker for his funeral.

Back in Edinburgh, they meet Spud, who has been released from prison. Sick Boy suggests a large and dangerous opportunity for them; the chance to buy two kilos of heroin for £4,000 and travel back to London to sell it for up to £20,000. Sick Boy needs Renton's help to afford the initial £4,000 and, after they buy it, Begbie makes Renton inject some of the heroin to make sure that it is good. The four travel to London and sell the heroin to a professional heroin dealer for £16,000. They go to a pub to celebrate, but the mood is broken when Begbie savagely attacks a fellow drinker. As his friends try to stop this, Begbie accidentally slices Spud's hand open with a knife. Renton is already considering taking all the £16,000 for himself, and this incident convinces him to go through with the plan.

Early the next morning, Renton pulls the bag of money away from a sleeping Begbie. Spud wakes up and sees this happening but remains silent as Renton leaves. Narrating, Renton vows to live the stable, traditional life he described at the beginning of the film as he walks through London in the sunrise. When Begbie awakes and discovers the money is missing, he smashes apart the room in a rage — the last time we see him, police are banging on his door and he is pulling out a knife. In the final scene, Spud later finds £2,000 left for him by Renton in a locker.



Producer Andrew Macdonald read the book and turned it on to director Danny Boyle and writer John Hodge in February 1994. Boyle was excited by its potential to be the "most energetic film you've ever seen - about something that ultimately ends up in purgatory or worse". Hodge read it and made it his goal to "produce a screenplay which would seem to have a beginning, a middle and an end, would last 90 minutes and would convey at least some of the spirit and the content of the book". Macdonald secured financing from Channel 4, a British television station known for funding independent films. According to Boyle, for the role of Renton, they wanted somebody who had the quality "Michael Caine's got in Alfie and Malcolm McDowell's got in A Clockwork Orange" - a repulsive character with charm "that makes you feel deeply ambiguous about what he's doing". Ewan McGregor was cast in the part and shaved his head and lost 26 pounds for the film. In addition, he read books on crack and heroin. Then, he went to Glasgow and met people from the Calton Athletic Recovery Group, an organization of recovering heroin addicts. There, he took classes on how to cook up a shot of drugs using glucose powder.

Trainspotting was shot in the summer of 1995 over seven weeks on a budget of $2.5 million with the cast and crew working out of an abandoned cigarette factory in Glasgow. Due to a lack of budget and time, most scenes were done in one take and the effects were achieved practically. For example, when Renton sinks into the floor after overdosing on heroin, the crew built a platform above a trap door and lowered the actor down.

Macdonald worked with Miramax Films to sell the film as a British Pulp Fiction, flooding the market with postcards, posters, books, soundtrack albums, and a revamped music video for "Lust for Life" by Iggy Pop directed by Boyle.

Upon its initial release in the United States, the first 20 minutes of Trainspotting were re-edited with alternate dialogue. Because of the strong Scottish accents and language of the characters, it was believed that American audiences might have difficulty understanding them. In addition, to ensure that the film received an R rating, Boyle trimmed two scenes: a needle going into a vein on an arm and Kelly Macdonald straddling McGregor during an orgasm. The original dialogue was later restored on the Criterion Collection laser disc in 1997 and then on the re-release of the "Director's Cut (The Collector's Edition)" DVD in 2004.

Filming locations

Despite being set in Edinburgh, almost all of the film was filmed in Glasgowmarker, apart from the opening scenes of the film which were filmed in Edinburgh, and the final scenes which were filmed in London.

Notable locations in the film include:

  • The iconic opening scene showing Renton and Spud being chased by store detectives was filmed on Princes Streetmarker, Edinburgh. A scene showing the actual theft was filmed in the music department of the since-closed John Menzies, also on Princes Street, but did not make the final cut.
  • The scene where the chase ends is on Calton Road, Edinburgh, near the rear entrance of Waverley Stationmarker.
  • The park where Sick Boy and Renton discuss James Bond, Sean Connery, and The Name of the Rose is Rouken Glen Park, near Thornliebankmarker. The park was also the site of the grave in Boyle's previous film Shallow Grave.
  • Corrour railway stationmarker is the setting for the "great outdoors" scene in the film.
  • The flat that Renton shows the young couple around when he gets the job as an estate agent and ultimately stashes Begbie and Sickboy in is 78A Talgarth Road at North End Road, London, opposite West Kensington tube stationmarker, part of the A4 roadmarker.
  • The scenes where they do their drug deal takes place in Bayswatermarker. The scene where they parody The Beatles Abbey Road takes place as they walk out of Smallbrook Mews across Craven Road to the Royal Eagle, 26–30 Craven Road, Bayswater.
  • The school attended by Diane is Jordanhillmarker in Glasgow's West End.


The Trainspotting soundtracks were two best-selling albums of music centered around the film. The first is a collection of songs featured in the film, while the second includes those left out from the first soundtrack and extra songs that inspired the filmmakers during production.


Trainspotting was screened at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival but was shown out of competition because, according to the filmmakers, of its subject matter. However, it went on to become the festival's one unqualified critical and popular hit. The film made ₤12 million in the domestic market and $72 million internationally. By the time it opened in North America, on July 19, 1996, the film had made more than $18 million in the UK. It initially opened in eight theaters and on its first weekend grossed $33,000 per screen. The film finally made $16.4 million in North America. At the time of its release, Trainspotting was the second highest-grossing British-made film in England, after Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Critical reception

In the United Kingdom, Trainspotting garnered almost universal praise from critics. In his review for The Guardian, Derek Malcolm gave the film credit for actually tapping into the youth subculture of the time and felt that it was "an extraordinary achievement and a breakthrough British film". Empire magazine gave the film five out of five stars and described the film as "something Britain can be proud of and Hollywood must be afraid of. If we Brits can make movies this good about subjects this horrific, what chance does Tinseltownmarker have?"

American film critic Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars and praised its portrayal of addicts' experiences with each other. In his review for the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, "in McGregor ... the film has an actor whose magnetism monopolizes our attention no matter what". Entertainment Weekly gave the film an "A" rating and Owen Gleiberman wrote, "Like Scorsese and Tarantino, Boyle uses pop songs as rhapsodic mood enhancers, though in his own ravey-hypnotic style. Whether he's staging a fumbly sex montage to Sleeper's version of Atomic or having Renton go cold turkey to the ominous slow build of Underworld's Dark and Long ... Trainspotting keeps us wired to the pulse of its characters' passions". In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, "Trainspotting doesn't have much narrative holding it together. Nor does it really have the dramatic range to cope with such wild extremes. Most of it sticks to the same moderate pitch, with entertainment value enhanced by Mr. Boyle's savvy use of wide angles, bright colors, attractively clean compositions and a dynamic pop score".

Rolling Stone magazine's Peter Travers wrote, "the film's flash can't disguise the emptiness of these blasted lives. Trainspotting is 90 minutes of raw power that Boyle and a bang-on cast inject right into the vein". In his review for the Washington Post, Desson Howe wrote, "Without a doubt, this is the most provocative, enjoyable pop-cultural experience since Pulp Fiction". Jonathan Rosenbaum, in his review for the Chicago Reader, wrote, "Like Twister and Independence Day, this movie is a theme-park ride--though it's a much better one, basically a series of youthful thrills, spills, chills, and swerves rather than a story intended to say very much". Trainspotting has a 89% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an 83 metascore on Metacritic.

Its release sparked some controversy in some countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States, as to whether it promoted drug use or not. U.S. Senator Bob Dole accused it of moral depravity and glorifying drug use during the 1996 U.S. presidential campaign, although he later admitted that he had not actually seen the film. Despite the controversy, it was widely praised and received a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay in that year's Academy Awards. Time magazine ranked Trainspotting as the third best film of 1996.


In 1999, Trainspotting was ranked in the 10th spot by the British Film Institute (BFI) in its list of Top 100 British films of all time, while in 2004 the magazine Total Film named it the fourth greatest British film of all time. The Observer polled several filmmakers and film critics who voted it the best British film in the last 25 years. In 2004, the film was voted the best Scottishmarker film of all time by the public in a poll for The List magazine. Trainspotting has since developed a cult following.


Trainspotting was nominated for three British Academy Film Awards in 1995, including John Hodge for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film and Best British Film. Hodge won in his category. Hodge also won Best Screenplay from the Evening Standard British Film Awards. Ewan McGregor was named Best Actor from the London Film Critics Circle, BAFTA Scotlandmarker Awards, and Empire magazine. Hodge was also nominated for an Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay but failed to win.


Boyle has stated his wish to make a sequel to Trainspotting which will take place nine years after the original film, based on Irvine Welsh's sequel, Porno. He is reportedly waiting until the original actors themselves age visibly enough to portray the same characters, ravaged by time; Boyle joked that the natural vanity of actors would make it a long wait. Ewan McGregor has stated in interviews that he would not like to make a sequel, due to his preference for being remembered for the critically acclaimed first film, and not an inferior sequel.

See also


  1. Welsh, 1997, Trainspotting, p. 309.
  2. Genres in transition British National Cinema, by Sarah Street, Published by Routledge, 1997. ISBN 0415067359. Page 111.


Further reading

  • Trainspotting, by Fredric Dannen, John Hodge, Barry Long, Irvine Welsh. Published by Hyperion, 1997. ISBN 0786882212.
  • Trainspotting screenplay by John Hodge
  • Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting: A Reader's Guide, by Robert A. Morace. Published by Continuum International Publishing Group, 2001. ISBN 082645237X.
  • Working-class Fiction: From Chartism to Trainspotting, by Ian Haywood. Published by Northcote House in association with the British Council, 1997. ISBN 0746307802.
  • Trainspotting: Director, Danny Boyle, by Martin Stollery. Published by Longman, 2001. ISBN 0582452589.
  • Welsh Warner and Cinematic Adaptation Contemporary Scottishmarker Fictions—Film, Television, and the Novel: Film, Television and the Novel, by Duncan J. Petrie. Published by Edinburgh University Press, 2004.ISBN 0748617892. Page 101-102.
  • Screening Trainspotting Irvine Welsh, by Aaron Kelly. Published by Manchester University Press, 2005. ISBN 0719066514.Page 68.
  • Trainspotting and My Name is Joe Hooked: Drug War Films in Britain, Canada, and the U.S., by Susan C. Boyd. Published by Routledge, 2008. ISBN 0415957060. Page 169

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