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Trainspotting and Quadrophenia: A Tale of Two Sequels

Ever since viewers watched Ewan McGregor’s Mark Renton stride freely into the distance, telling them to ‘choose life, choose a job, choose a career, choose a family, choose a fucking big television, etc’, they’ve wondered whether they’d ever see the Skagboys reunited again on-screen.

Turns out, the answer is yes – yes they will.

The much anticipated follow-up to Trainspotting was confirmed at the end of last year, with production beginning on the film, tentatively titled T2, commencing last month. Cue excitement, delirium, forums, parody Twitter accounts, leaked images of the actors on-set and a spike in the purchase of those big quote posters that HMV always seem to have in-stock.

In short, people are enthusiastic at the prospect of a sequel – which is a little more than can be said for Quadrophenia.

Last week, the announcement that the film which pitted Mods against Rockers would receive a second outing was met with almost universal disdain. Fans of the original responded with bemusement, whilst The Who, providers of the titular rock opera which soundtracked the 1979 film, described the prospect of the ‘karaoke sequel’ as ‘totally ridiculous’.

So, why? On paper, very little separates the two.

Both films have achieved a cult-like following, contain casts made up of iconic British actors and represent specific counter-cultural movements within British history – be it Mods in Brighton at the height of the 70s, or drug users in 90s Edinburgh.

Similarly, both films find themselves incredibly reliant on memorable soundtracks. Whilst Quadrophenia’s relationship with its music needs no explaining, Trainspotting is perhaps a little more covert in its doing so – however, I challenge you to imagine Renton, Sickboy and Spud outrunning retail security without Iggy Pop blaring out Lust For Life in juvenile company. The films conclusion, too, wouldn’t be half as satisfying if Renton had double-crossed Begbie to the sound of his own sniggering, rather than Darren Price’s iconic remix of Underworld’s Born Slippy. In what is a 93 minute snapshot of alternative living, Trainspotting is as much about musical culture as it is about a culture of drugs.


Perhaps most intriguingly, is that both prospective sequels are based on novels. T2 is said to borrow from Irvine Welsh’s Porno, whilst Q2 (which is what I’ll to refer to it as from now on, because it rhymes and rhymes are fun) will use Peter Meadows’s To Be Someone as its source text – a novel inspired by the original film.

The only real difference is the length of time it’s taken for each sequel to announce itself. T2 is due to hit cinemas 21 years after Trainspotting did the rounds, whereas Q2 (God, I love rhymes) will follow Quadrophenia 37 years afterwards. Both films have waited an age to begin production, but Q2 comes close to doubling the wait for T2.

So, I’ll reiterate – why such a stark contrast in reception? Both Trainspotting and Quadrophenia are vocally adored representatives of British film, capturing state-of-the-nation movements and variations with cinematic flourish. However, in T2, you have one of the most anticipated films of 2017, existing in a colossally different filmic stratosphere to Q2, a prospective sequel which has been described as: ‘totally ridiculous’, a ‘karaoke sequel’ and a ‘blatant attempt to cash in on the original film’s popularity’.

Well, after a great deal of contemplation, the answer appears to be short-winded and simple: T2 is going to be very, very good, whilst Q2 is going to be shit.

Yep, that’s it.

T2 reunites director Danny Boyle with the original cast in its entirety, barring Kevin McKidd, which is forgivable, considering his character died in the first film. This Danny Boyle being the Danny Boyle who since directing Trainspotting in 1996, has gone onto be nominated for two Oscars for 127 Hours, win one for Slumdog Millionaire, work with Leonardo Di Caprio, Michael Fassbender and Benedict Cumberbatch (to name just a few) and oversee a little old project for the 2012 Olympic Games. Ewan McGregor and Johnny Lee Miller have become international stars, but are dwarfed in terms of importance by the return of Robert Carlyle. The Scottish actor was undoubtedly the best thing about the original film, giving an iconic performance as the violent and erratic Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie. Carlyle recent called the T2 script ‘one of the best I’ve fucking read’.

Meanwhile, Q2 won’t feature Ray Winstone, Sting, any music by The Who, and is being directed by Ray Burdis, who you’ll remember as the auteur behind 2013’s The Wee Man (nope, me neither). Toyar, who played Monkey in the original, will reprise her role, and recently declared in an interview with The Mirror that her character has become a ‘sexual predator’ and is married to one of the other main characters. They’re both swingers, too – obviously.


Essentially, what was a thrilling, cinematic ode to Mod culture is being reshaped into a B-grade British gangster flick, and quite understandably, people are a little upset about that.

Whilst Trainspotting was entirely immersive as an exploration of 90s Edinburgh, it wasn’t exclusive to it, either; the oppositional, in-yer-face existence portrayed by Renton and his band of merry heroin users is applicable to a number of eras, and that’s why, in 2017, it’ll flourish. Quadrophenia, however, is an incredibly particular piece of cinematic history. Its sense of time and place is its greatest strength, and without that temporal grounding, Q2 (I couldn’t resist one last time) feels like an empty concept.

Whilst both films will have their critics, the prospect of Irvine Welsh’s prose returning to cinema screens is a genuinely exciting one – especially when you add all of the ingredients that made Trainspotting such an important piece of cinema, but Quadrophenia should have been left alone.

The sequel game is a funny old one, and unless you’re The Godfather: Part II, it’s always going to be an uphill struggle to outgrow the shadow of the cinematic predecessor. But you can bet your life that T2 will give it a damn good go.

Words by Niall Flynn

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