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FILM: The Scheme on Screen: Analysing the Film Adaptations of Irvine Welsh

"I'm the same kind of writer as I am a drinker. I'm a binger." - Irvine Welsh.

Irvine Welsh is the Poet Laureate of the Scheme. Since Trainspotting’s release in 1993, Welsh has achieved potentially the highest level of cult status possible in Scotland. He’s had ten novels published; with four of them made into films. The Trainspotting sequel, Porno, is next to take a leap onto the Big Screen. With filming now truly under-way in Scotland, it seems the perfect time to reassess the movie expeditions of this legendary Scottish penman.

Trainspotting (1996)

Director: Danny Boyle

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Tommy Lee Jones, Ewan Bremner, Kelly MacDonald and Kevin McKidd

Released in early 1996, Trainspotting follows the story of Mark Renton as he battles heroin addiction and his toxic friend group. Sick Boy, sweetly oblivious Spud, psychopath Begbie and straight-laced Tommy are the characters which not only comprise Renton’s group of manipulative pals, but also form the backbone of a grittily accurate depiction of Scottish life in the 90s.

The film was made on a shoestring budget, not exceeding £1.5 million. Trainspotting has set the bar high and is now considered one of the best pieces of British cinema.

"Choose rotting away in the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourself, choose your future. Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that?”

The film exposed a lot of young Scottish talent - as well as bringing Danny Boyle into the public eye. Boyle’s direction captures the danger of Renton and his pals’ lifestyle effortlessly. Everything about this film is unwelcoming and oozes blackness. From the smashed flat of the group’s drug dealer, to the overwhelming intensity of club scenes. A residual grey hangs over each shot, creating a grimy overlay to the pristine perception of Edinburgh. As the film’s narrator, Renton isn’t much different. He is a cold cynic, that is unhappy with his life, and we as the viewer can see this before he even opens his mouth.

The Trainspotting soundtrack compliments this mangled state of affairs, perfectly. From the frantic intro’s usage of “Lust for life” to Pulp’s “Mile End” acting as an overture to Renton’s despair upon Begbie’s re-entry into his life.

Everything is done with an amazing subtlety, which perfectly offsets the intense brashness of this film.

The Acid House (1998)

Director: Paul McGuigan

Starring: Stephen McCole, Kevin McKidd, Maurice Roeves, and Ewan Bremner

The Acid House is a confusing wee film. Adapted from the book of the same name, it contains the stories The Granton Star Cause, A Soft Touch and The Acid House. The first of the two shorts build in quality, going from good to great. This is before the film is derailed by an abhorrent final tale.

The Granton Star Cause is a serviceable piece of black comedy, featuring football, heartbreak, sadomasochism and a drunken God. It all begins with Boab (Stephen McCole) getting kicked from his local football team, before meeting a foul-mouthed God (Maurice Roeves) in a grimy pub. Swiftly followed by his vengeance on everyone, after he is transformed into a fly. This abnormal segment works, though. The mesh of Cronenberg/Kafka-esque dark humour and ridiculous nature are what makes this section strangely endearing.

“This is what being alive's all about, all those fucked up feelings. You've got to have them; when you stop, watch out.”

Next is A Soft Touch. It is worth watching the full film for this bit alone. It’s a brutally cold story, with very little comic relief. This only adds to its appeal. As two near strangers (Kevin McKidd and Michelle Gomez) get married, they slowly begin to drift apart. Soon after, a bullying neighbour (Gary McCormack) joins the scene to make life even more unbearable. This is a story with no great revelations; it’s realistic and harrowing. Beautiful realism from an extravagant writer.

From good to great and back down to bad.

Here we reach the titular segment. Acid House is a mess. Coco (Ewan Bremner) takes a hit of acid and is transported into the body of a middle class couple’s baby. This segment estranges from the basic rule that comedies should be funny. There are numerous tasteless jokes about poo, sick and breastfeeding. This is bad enough. However, when paired with some of the most pathetic special effects this side of Sharknado, it just exudes an air of a very bad trip. Nothing more.

Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy (2011)

Director: Rob Heydon

Starring: Adam Sinclair, Kristen Kreuk, Billy Boyd and Carlo Rota

This film made the prospect of future Welsh adaptations terrifying. There’s bad adaptations and then there’s missing the point entirely. Taken from one short story from Ecstasy- Three Tales of Chemical Romance, it is overly long and poorly executed. The film spans 99 minutes, even though the plot only has enough backbone to stretch up to 9.

“When two people were in love you had to leave them to it. Especially when you weren't in love and wished that you were. That could embarrass. That could hurt.”

It’s just not that interesting. We’ve seen this type of thing before and we have seen it done far better. We see small time drug pusher, Llyod (Adam Sinclair) go against local mob boss, Solo (Carlo Rota) as he falls for the girl of his dreams, Heather (Kristen Kreuk). The acting is unbelievably wooden. You could swap this film for footage of a birch tree and no one would be any the wiser. The final blow comes from Heydon’s direction. This film is so obviously a Trainspotting wannabe, with some of its most direct shots lifted from its predecessor and contorted into a parody.

But, the true message does ring through at the end. In essence, excessive drug use will make you an insatiably boring person.

Filth (2013)

Director: Jon S. Baird

Starring: James McAvoy, Jamie Bell, Joanne Foggart, Imogen Poots and Jim Broadbent

Seventeen years have passed and we are finally prized with a film to rival Trainspotting’s brilliance. This may seem like high praise, but Filth’s hectic nature is magnificent. Sgt. Bruce Robertson (a very beardy James McAvoy) is honestly terrifying. The representation of Edinburgh, which he inhabits, reflects this wonderfully. Edinburgh is a concrete jungle with lashings of neon, degradation and ultra violence.

The source of his mania comes form his desire to achieve promotion in the police. This is often to the downfall of his colleagues - all of who are accordingly shown as pathetic. It’s with delicious malice that he twists the viewer into celebrating his perversions.

"The games are always being played. Nobody plays the games like me. You just have to be the best and I usually am."

That is until the final act.

Without spoiling anything: we are forced to question the morality of this brutal man before us; left squandering for justification of his actions. The problem presented to us through Bruce Robertson’s disgusting life, stands as the reasoning for his acts of malice, manipulation and morose. Although it is shot brutally and grittily, the revelation which comes into climax in these final scenes is heart-breaking and tender.

Both halves come together seamlessly via Clint Mansell’s incredible soundtrack. The standout moment of which comes from an unexpected reworking of Radiohead's classic, “Creep”, which vehemently manages to be more emotional than the original.

Filth brings this very mixed list to a fantastic close. Whether Trainspotting 2 will be reminiscent of its predecessor’s glory, or sink to the lows of Ecstasy’s timber yard, remains to be seen. With the original director and cast all returning, it looks as though we’ll get a third classic for this list.

“You were what you were and you are what you are. Fuck that regrets bullshit.”

For more info on any of the above films, head to Irvine Welsh's official website:

Edited by Mairi Mulhern

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