Trainspotting movie almost didn’t happen, says Irvine Welsh

Irvine Welsh says he sold Trainspotting rights  to wrong filmmaker. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Irvine Welsh says he sold Trainspotting rights to wrong filmmaker. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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Irvine Welsh has revealed for the first time that the film adaptation of Trainspotting almost never made it off the starting blocks - after he sold the right of the book to the wrong filmmaker.

The Edinburgh author has told how he realised his mistake when he received a hand-written letter from director Danny Boyle for a rethink and urging him to watch his movie debut Shallow Grave.

Welsh has recalled cursing as he watched the end credits to Boyle’s critically-acclaimed thriller, which like his tale of a group of heroin addict friends was set in the writer’s home city, thinking he had blown “the best chance of producing something memorable.”

Writing in Empire film magazine, Welsh admitted he had badly blundered by failing to get an agent after the publication of Trainspotting and then signing off the rights for a lucrative sum to a producer who gave him the impression that he worked with Boyle.

Channel 4 later threatened to pull the plug on its backing of the film because of the rights issue was unresolved. It was only after Welsh, Boyle and producer Andrew Macdonald, his partner Shallow Grave, pleaded with Noel Gay, the production company who had the rights, for a rethink that their version finally got off the ground, with filming finally underway in June 1995.

The film, which saw screenwriter John Hodge nominated for an Academy Award, was a huge box office hit and would go on to be named the best Scottish film of all-time.

Recalling the bidding war for his 1993 novel, Welsh said: “I was determined that any movie would have to capture the relentless energy of the novel.

“First and foremost, it needed to be, despite the often-grim subject matter, an uncompromisingly swaggering celebration of youthful camaraderie and joie de vivre. The last thing I wanted was a dreary docudrama about heroin, with its stock procession of victims.

“The correspondence I received from interested filmmakers tended to be worthy. Few seemed to get where I was coming from, except one producer, offering (what was then for me) decent money.

“At this point things started to get messy, and this was largely my fault, as I didn’t have an agent. I had done very well negotiating my own book deals, so arrogantly presumed I could operate in the same way in the more complex world of film.”

Welsh recalled Boyle’s letter - which insisted that he, Macdonald and Hodge were an indivisible combination - “mapping out” the director’s vision for Trainspotting.

Welsh added: “He also sent me a screener of Shallow Grave, urging me to watch it. I loved the movie and saw that its cinematic energy would be the ideal complement to my characters and the ubiquitous, resonant issue of illegal drugs. The only problem was I had already sold the rights.”