There’s only one thing more illicit than slipping into a cinema at half past two in the afternoon and that’s slipping into one at 10am. I gave up my ticket for Sunday’s glitzy world premiere of T2 Trainspotting for an early screening attended by a handful of folk because I love the smell of industrial detergent mixed with spilt Kia-Ora in the morning.
Maybe I’m not the best person to be telling you about the sequel to what some reckon to be the best Scottish film ever if morning movies is my concept of illicit, given that drugs abounded in the original and are pretty prevalent here, too. But I’m the ideal person to be telling you that it’s old St Stephen’s Parish Church in Edinburgh’s Stockbridge where Spud sits in a circle with fellow addicts trying to wean himself off heroin.
Every Sunday without fail I was in that church. Four kids kitted out in itchy-scratchy Sunday best - we might as well have been wearing hair shirts - to listen to the Rev A. I. Dunlop’s sermons. My sisters have always been surprised we were sent, given our parents were not especially religious, and suspect they wanted us out of the house for a couple of hours so they could have sex in rooms which were not their bedroom. It was strange then, on a whole other Sunday almost half a century later, to glimpse the church’s interiors again, and to wonder if my bubblegum was still stuck to the pew, second row from the back.
“You live in the past. Where I come from the past is something to forget.” The words are spoken by Veronika, the Bulgarian prostitute with the alluringly wonky gnasher. She directs them at Renton and Sick Boy but she could be cautioning against sequels of much-loved films. Never go back, it won’t be as good, second-time around, and your tired cash-in will only sour our view of the original.
Sequels have a lousy name and with good reason. Was Police Academy 4 really necessary? Or that other one, I think it might have been called Police Academy 5? Did Kenneth “Civilisation” Clark, when he narrated the history of art from the Dark Ages, envisage there would one day be a Fast & Furious 6? Movie-makers who fancy they’re creating art might announce that the film in production will be a franchise, and that parts two and three will be shot at the same time. How presumptuous is that?
Regarding Trainspotting, though, maybe a comparison could be made with a telly drama, namely This Life. Both are British, concern groups of young hedonists, tell their daring stories using bold camera-work - and both captured the zeitgeist. But there the similarities end.
The This Life reunion picked up the lives of flat-sharing lawyers Anna, Miles, Egg and the rest ten years after the series came to an end. It was slow, flabby, indulgent, self-congratulatory and uninvolving. Here was a sequel which did indeed contaminate the original. We wondered why we ever cared about these dull people in the first place. It was so bad that no one wanted to hear from them again, which was a shame for all the the original fans of Anna, the patron saint of ladettes, the epitome of women behaving badly, but maybe not for Scottish actress Daniela Nardini who played her and ended up typecast. So, even though 2017 would mark another decade from the last get-together, there’s no chance of a revival this year.
T2 has left a gap of two decades. Maybe that wasn’t part of the plan. Irvine Welsh had written a sequel but there was some reluctance from the actors, and a gigantic petted lip on display from Ewan McGregor for being passed over by director Danny Boyle for another movie, and the only way the follow-up was going to work was if everyone was present and correct. The real reason T2 succeeds, though, is down to a new member of the cast - Edinburgh.
The city (and Leith) appeared in the first film, of course, but with nothing like the starring role offered this time. You’ll remember how in Trainspotting, when the action went indoors, the houses and flats were very un-Edinburgh. Issues of financing and crew meant the interiors had to be shot in Glasgow but now “Embra” has got its story back. And like Begbie when he uncovers a fridge full of Viagra, it rises to the occasion splendidly.
It would be difficult to muck up the panorama from atop Arthur’s Seat and T2 doesn’t, bathing Renton and Spud in a glistening haze as. post-jog, they debate what it’s like to be “46 and f****d”. But T2 even manages to make HM Prison Edinburgh - which will always be Saughton to locals - look grand and, annoyingly, the tram system is almost sexy as Renton whizzes along what for him used to be the capital’s prime choreying thoroughfare.
There seems to be more Edinburgh in the film in every way. More mentions of “radge” and “likesy”, more namechecks for Granton and the “Banana Flats” and “Dog-S**t Park”, where a young Welsh played football with his Muirhouse neighbour Gordon Strachan. A bit more than 20 years ago, I interviewed Welsh for a tartan tabloid, happy to have secured the football anecdote I reckoned would be necessary to get the piece published. It wasn’t enough. Novelists weren’t sexy, I was told. Then Trainspotting came out and the world changed.
Welsh walks into that paper these days, as do his stars. They’ve now made a fine film about masculinity and its various disappointments. Me, I’m headed back to church to thank the Lord I grew up nice and middle-class and never knew Francis “Franco” Begbie.