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Books on Film: Trainspotting

trainspottingTIFF presents Books on Film: Trainspotting

Novel written by Irvine Welsh
Screenplay written by John Hodge
Directed by Danny Boyle

One cannot help but think of Anthony Burgess’ Classic A Clockwork Orange while reading Irvine Welsh’s 1993 novel Trainspotting. Like Clockwork, Trainspotting is perhaps most well known for its peculiar style of writing. Welsh writes the novel phonetically in his native Scottish dialect. Initially, this can make for a frustrating and hectic read, yet it perfectly suits the novel’s narrative which follows a group of young heroin addicts. Narrative may be the wrong word, since Welsh’s novel reads as more of a series of short vignettes following Renton and his friends Sick Boy, Spud, and Begbie.

In 1996, filmmaker Danny Boyle (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) adapted Welsh’s novel into his wildly successful film of the same name. A young Ewan McGregor (who had appeared in Boyle’s previous film, SHALLOW GRAVE) stars as Renton. Watching the film, it’s hard to believe that the man shoving his hand into a clogged toilet to fish out opium suppositories will eventually play Obi-Wan Kenobi, but that’s acting for you. Rounding out the cast are Johnny Lee Miller (TV’s Elementary) as Sick Boy, Evan Bremner as Spud, and Robert Carlyle as Begbie. The film also features the screen debut of Kelly MacDonald as the wildly underused Diane.


The novel seems to jump all over the place, which is appropriate, but Boyle assembles the Welsh’s greatest hits to form a narrative. The film adaptation focuses on Renton’s attempts to quit heroin and rebuild himself as a contributing citizen. Obviously, things do not go according to plan. While Boyle’s fast-paced direction makes the film quite a bit of fun, it does a great job of showing the group at their lowest, so as not to glamorize the whole ordeal. The film has undeniably built a large cult following over the years, but by today’s standards it is actually quite tame. Nonetheless, Boyle’s adaptation is an unforgettably wild ride.

As part of TIFF’s ongoing Books on Film series, Irvine Welsh was on hand to discuss the adaptation of his novel. Before the screening, Welsh reminded audiences to be on the lookout for his bit part as drug dealer Mikey Forrester. Welsh is surprising great in the part, providing some of the film’s biggest laughs.

Following the film Welsh gave audiences the scoop on his own life, which is not so different from the characters in the novel. The author stated that he himself had tried almost every drug and was a heroin addict for quite some time. In relation to the book’s style, Welsh mentioned that he in fact did try to write the book in standard English, but that it ultimately just didn’t make sense that way.


Finally, Welsh dished on the two most anticipated scoops of the night. The author confirmed that there would in fact be a sequel to the film, based on his follow-up novel Porno. He confirmed that both Ewan McGregor and director Danny Boyle are on board, but no estimated production date was given. During the book signing following the conversation, Welsh told me that he does in fact have more story ideas for Renton and the gang, and that fans can expect a follow-up sometime soon. While he does plan on returning to the characters, Welsh has not decided weather this will be in novel or short story form.

With helpful insight from the author, it is even easier to appreciate his now classic novel and its equally classical film. In case you simply cannot wait for the mentioned follow-up, Welsh’s new novel A Decent Ride is available now.

Books on Film continues at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto on June 22 with Ronald Neame’s THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE. Film critic Philip Lopate will be on hand to discuss the adaptation. For more information, please visit

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