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T2 Trainspotting: Nostalgia Trip


Like any film with an extended period of time between the original and sequel(s), T2: Trainspotting (2017) is required to form an immediate connection with its audience. Twenty years have passed, yet we must feel accustomed to this world. For every element of change, something else must remain the same. We take comfort in what we know; it allows us to enjoy the new without fear of the unknown. If T2 had been released a couple of years after Trainspotting (1996), it could potentially have been set in Benidorm. Transplanting our anti-heroes from Scotland to Spain is fine when they are fresh in our conscious mind, but twenty years later we need a way back. In T2 this is achieved by location (still in Leith, Edinburgh), music and costume. Not much has changed in this respect, and what has we probably expected to.

Costume designers for T2 are Rachael Fleming, who returns from Trainspotting, and Steven Noble. Quite how the partnership worked in a practical sense I’m not sure, but everything on screen is entirely harmonious. Nothing seems out of place, even if certain choices feel more on the nose than others. It was clear during the making of T2 that everyone was treading a line between embracing nostalgia and being a slave to it. This aptly reflects the central characters; each familiar face is in love with a murky, misremembered past so unable to focus on a brighter future. Why does Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) return to Scotland in the first place? Because despite all the pain this period of his youth inflicted, on himself and others, it defines who he is. We can’t run from our past so we must make our peace with it.

Renton (Ewan McGregor) and Simon aka ‘Sick Boy’ (Jonny Lee Miller). Sick Boy is a Capitol City era hustler running a deserted dead-end pub in Edinburgh. But look at how he dresses – Sick Boy has aspirations.

Renton is the first of the old crew to make an appearance. Director Danny Boyle shoots the opening like a Carry On movie; snippets of life to show what everyone is up to before the meat of the plot kicks in. Renton’s look is one of the most subtle in terms of progression and feels the most authentic. In Trainspotting he was generally attired in skinny jeans teamed with grubby white trainers, tight baby tees and nondescript sweaters. The jeans worn by himself and Daniel aka ‘Spud’ (Ewen Bremner) were actually unpicked and restitched to make them even skinnier. This was not so much the beginning of the noughties hipster silhouette, as a way to make the cast look even more emaciated. Heroin addicts don’t eat much; they get high and look for the next high. Not a lot of nourishment. Renton’s new ‘lust for life’ is represented by a supposed keep fit lifestyle. The sports gear he wears, such as omnipresent retro-tinged track tops, serve a narrative purpose beyond simply updating his look. He teams with a green cargo jacket, slim jeans and pants and bomber jacket, plus a lot of crew and funnel necklines. He’s always casual. In fact the one time Renton puts on a suit it feels entirely wrong. He can’t wait to be out of the thing. Apart from the brief suit moment, Renton’s look remains consistent throughout. There is one glorious scene where Renton returns to his childhood bedroom, strips down to reveal a slim-fitting tee and proceeds to dance like an off-his-gourd nineties clubber. The only thing that’s changed is his waistline. Consider Renton’s still unaltered bedroom though; it’s surrounded in 1970s posters and memorabilia. He was out of his time way before 1999.

This longing for harmony is best illustrated with Spud. Poor old Spud, he hasn’t changed; he’s still on smack, neither gone or going anywhere. His look tells us everything we need. He is perhaps our easiest way into T2. We know him, so we know where we are. Compare this kind of welcoming familiarity with another sequel that took nearly two decades to happen, The Godfather Part III (1990) and it’s evident just how important a visual safety net is. The Godfather Part III was made 16 years after the The Godfather Part II (1974), which is set predominantly in 1958 while The Godfather Part III is set in 1979. The rub is that aesthetically The Godfather Part III is so far removed from its predecessor, especially in terms of costume, it is difficult to think they are even from the same family. Al Pacino looks completely different as Michael Corleone to the point where he is hardly recognisable. In all honesty, for many years I actually thought The Godfather III was set in 1990. There are practically no identifiers in terms of costume – in fact some of the clothing seems almost purposely representative of the late 1980s. How and why this was the case I don’t know. Whether this was the choice of costume designer Milena Canonero or director Francis Ford Coppola, it must have been a conscious one. The public, however, reacted with disdain. This was not their Godfather. Cleverly T2 recognises this idea and gives us the broad strokes we need to feel comfortable. Spud, just on the T2 movie posters alone, is our guiding hand. Some things have changed, but you can still rely on Scotland’s most resilient drug addict to be wearing those amber lens sunglasses.

Renton, Sick Boy and Daniel aka ‘Spud’ (Ewen Bremner). Note Spud’s filthy Dunlop Green Flash trainers – he’s a penny-poor smack head, but very much the black comedy movie version. He’s more like the cool student you wanted to be.

Spud is the most distinctly styled member of the Trainspotting group, although his overall look is more all encompassing than, say, Simon aka ‘Sick Boy’ (Jonny Lee Miller), who is signature defined. Yet each Spud outfit remains true to a mid-1990s resurgence for 1970s clothing. The nineties became hugely important in augmenting a vintage revival for post mid-century attire that eventually peaked around ten years ago but is still popular today. The first time we see Spud is during a montage of his outlandish ensembles, each glimpsed for only few a seconds. He sports everything from a seventies polyester shirt to sheepskin coat to formal waistcoat worn as a singlet vest. The suggestion here is that Spud has never had any money (apart from the £4,000 Renton left him which he blew on smack), so instead buys clothes from charity shops. However it’s been a good twenty years since these types of era specific garments would turn up in charity shop without being snagged by a vintage boutique first. Or are we to believe that Spud has not updated his wardrobe in the slightest? (Bremner does wear some of his actual costumes from the original Trainspotting). Or perhaps Rachael Fleming and Steven Noble were aware that these characters might be experiencing real issues but are basically symbols of a bygone time of hedonism that engulfed us all heading into the new millennium. Yet they are not cartoons, even if Spud is closest to caricature. If you’re going to dress like an actual junkie, you’d wear crummy sweatpants and a soiled sweater; if you’re going to dress like a ‘cool’ junkie you dress like Spud. Somehow a man who vomits repeatedly into the plastic bag he is trying to suffocate himself in, and then subsequently over his best friend, remains a style icon. Spud is Tyler Durden, if Tyler Durden was a smackhead from Leith.

With Spud the most cartoonish of the set and Renton the most organic, it’s Sick Boy who fulfils our ‘aspirational blackmailer about town’ quota. He’s all about chasing the coin and wants everyone to know this. Sick Boy may have primarily worn pastel tees in the original film, but on that iconic poster image he’s flashing a suit. He’s the one we were all watching when we should have been watching Renton. Now Sick Boy is all business, and so says his virtually unchanging wardrobe of grey suits or grey trousers teamed with black vest or polo shirt, black shoes or sandals and Gucci web belt. He’s a wide boy geezer with a yuppie parody coke habit and innate need to be the big shot. Sick Boy is a collector; his flat overflows with DVDs and shiny tech. He likes to acquire new things, which is somewhat at odds with his regimented style. Yet his look is the only part of life he can control. Likewise he still dyes his thinning hair sunshine blonde – it’s what we expect to see as an audience and what feels true to him as a person. He says he wants change in his life, but how much really? For Sick Boy it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.

Trainspotting’s resident hard man, Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie (Robert Carlyle) wearing his signature argyle knit v-neck sweater. Most important for Begbie’s established look, he’s wearing it without a shirt.

Spud’s familiarity is important, as is Sick Boy’s, and to a lesser extent Renton’s, but what about Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie (Robert Carlyle)? His 1980s ‘terraces’ garb from the first film sparked a minor fashion trend for whippet thin hard men. Yet Begbie his been in prison for twenty years and escapes at the start of the film. Clearly he needs to remain inconspicuous, but double denim and a pastel yellow argyle Pringle is not going to hide you anywhere but a golf course. Unlike Spud, whose 1980s suit and Dunlop Green Flash trainers can be enjoyed as a pleasingly out of context throwback (in T2 he wears this ensemble to a memorial in the middle of nowhere), Begbie, arguably the most terrifyingly real character in Trainspotting, must at least attempt to remain hidden. We need those Pringle sweaters again, but they will have to be drip fed because Begbie can’t be in our face; he has to creep up in those shiny black penny loafers.

There is a wonderful moment in T2 when Begbie finally abandons his halfhearted disguise in public. He removes his fisherman’s hat, grey zipper jacket and dark lens sunglasses inside a nightclub to reveal a most fabulous grey and pink knit argyle v-neck sweater. We just knew he had to meet Renton in the next sequence. Dressed in this hideous v-neck, wine golf pants, white socks and black loafers, classic Begbie is all ready to kick off. Fleming and Noble brought Begbie’s terraces look back without causing us to question the idea too much. Yes it doesn’t make much sense in a narrative context (did Begbie forgo laying low and decide to go shopping in a darkly lit TK Maxx?), plus it’s not like any of his old wardrobe would even fit now either. No, this was taking a creative liberty to please us. It’s obvious it pleased Danny Boyle too; just note the way he lovingly takes in those black loafers and milky white socks. It’s as if Begbie is moonwalking across the camera.

This is the beauty of T2, in many ways, but particularly from the point of view of costume; it’s not necessarily about what we should see but what we expect to see. It’s an aspect The Godfather Part III got so drastically wrong. After such a long gap between a much loved film and its sequel we need stability. Show us a new world through the eyes of familiar characters. Comfort us. We don’t want change, we want evolution. We needed to see the return of Trainspotting’s feckless four looking, for want of a better phrase, exactly the same but different. Bravo T2, you did nostalgia right.

T2 Trainspotting is currently on general release.

© 2017, Lord Christopher Laverty.