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What Can We Expect from Danny Boyle’s Adaptation of ‘Porno’?

Transpotting

It’s been eleven years since Irvine’s Welsh’s Porno was published, and in the years since then, Danny Boyle, the film director who adapted the novel’s predecessor Trainspotting in 1996, has been rather coy about his intentions to bring Porno to the big screen. Perhaps all the Oscar wins and critical acclaim he has received in the interim has made him reluctant to make a sequel to his earlier work, but every so often Boyle casually remarks on the prospect of such an undertaking, and now Trainspotting actor Robert Carlyle has confirmed that a production of Porno will take place when quizzed about it at an American comic-con this past July.

Boyle once claimed that he is waiting for the original Trainspotting cast to age enough so that they will match Welsh’s physical descriptions of their characters when Porno catches up with them a decade later. Well, it’s been seventeen years since Trainspotting, so perhaps now is the perfect time to begin that overdue adaptation. According to various reports milling around the internet, the original cast have all expressed interest in reprising their roles, with Robert Carlyle claiming he would “do it tomorrow for nothing”.

Trainspotting director Danny Boyle is set to bring Irvine Welsh's words to cinema once again.
Trainspotting director Danny Boyle is set to bring Irvine Welsh’s words to cinema once again.

This will mean that Ewan Macgregor will return as Mark Renton, a reformed heroin addict who now runs a successful nightclub in Amsterdam, although relations between Boyle and Macgregor have been strained since the late 90s when Macgregor was passed over for Leonardo Di Caprio for the lead role in Boyle’s adaptation of The Beach. Only recently have the two apparently made amends, having been photographed together.

Robert Carlyle (who has had a much greater presence on American television in recent years) will reappear as the violent sociopath Francis Begbie, and Johnny Lee Miller, now primarily a stage actor, is rumoured to be reprising his role as Simon (Sick Boy) Williams. Whether Kelly Macdonald will return in her role of Diane (a secondary character in Porno) remains to be seen; her award-winning turn as Margaret Schroder in the HBO series Boardwalk empire might prevent this from occurring, and likewise Ewan Bremmer who memorably brought the character ‘Spud’ to life has also established a successful career on US Television which may present a problem for his return.

If Boyle is loyal to Welsh’s novel, it’s Johnny Lee Miller who will gain the greatest amount of screen time, as Porno is, for the most part, the story of Simon Williams, a character whose devious personality is explored in much greater detail in Porno than in Transporting. However, it seems unlikely that the star appeal of Ewan Macgregor will be diminished by any screenplay, despite Mark Renton having a far less prolific role in Porno compared to his central character status in Trainspotting.

One thing that should be noted about Porno is how much lighter and generally funnier the novel is in comparison to Trainspotting. The grim reflections about life in the Scottish town of Leith are still present, but there is definitely a lot more to be said about the tone, which is far more upbeat and generally features less social observation. Boyle has proven in the past that he can do comedy just as well as drama, most famously seen in the ‘comedic’ aspect of Slumdog Millionaire (although this film was set against a very different scenario to that of Porno), but comedy did not work in Boyle’s favour when making the 1997 black comedy A Life Less Ordinary, a film widely regarded as his weakest.

If Boyle does choose to make Porno with a more serious angle to emphasize the more ruthless aspects of the story, because despite its tone there are several brutal scenarios in the novel, then the drug to place under the social microscope is not the heroin of Trainspotting, but instead cocaine, which plays a definitive role in the character of Simon Williams and the culture of the pornographic industry the novel is largely based around. Both the novel and film of Trainspotting led to significant political and social discussion about the effects of heroin, and with a director like Danny Boyle at the helm of Porno, there’s every reason to assume that another thought-provoking exploration could be provoked.

Trainspotting might not have featured any actual trains, but Porno most definitely has graphic depictions of pornographic material, most of which will most likely be removed or severely edited for the film. However, Boyle has remarked that any screenplay he creates will be “loosely based” around the book, and if he chooses to include its extreme sexual content, the film will surely carry an 18 certificate, and perhaps be one of few films to receive the NC-17 rating in America.

Porno follows a narrative approach from multiple character perspectives, with each narrating a chapter alone. Boyle may choose to use a similar multi-character vantage point, but this will prove difficult as Welsh’s technique is used to create meaning through diegetic narrative views which is always a much more complex strategy to project onto a cinema screen than onto the written page.

There are of course a whole bunch of new characters in Porno that didn’t appear in Trainspotting. The most notable new character is 25-year-old student ‘Nikki Fuller-Smith’, who is absolutely pivotal to the story, and when cast for the film will surely be portrayed by a young and charismatic new actress. These vibrant characters should all help provide a new dynamic to Boyle’s cinematic vision, just as they did to Irvine Welsh’s darkly comic writing style.

This is not to say the returning characters are any less mesmerizing then they were in Trainspotting, especially in regards to the comedic aspects of their personas. Even a menacing character like Francis Begbie has many of his finest dialogue peppered with black humour, and in Porno it’s much easier to identify and laugh at. However, this is where the film’s production could suffer, as the characters run the risk of appearing as parodies of themselves. A quick browse at Facebook finds numerous profiles set up in honour of Begbie, complete with comical quotations of his most notorious rhetoric, inspired by a fanboy love for Carlyle’s aggressive performance. One can’t help but feel that the threatening aura of the character that Boyle and Carlyle intended to illustrate has become less intimidating since 1996. It would be a huge mistake for Carlyle if he was to play his performance for laughs in a bid to cater for those audience members hoping to see Begbie appear as a wholly comical creation.

It’s also worth noting that Trainspotting is a film widely regarded as being part of the 1990s zeitgeist of British pop culture, which can be seen reflected in its Britpop inspired soundtrack. If Porno is made to either reflect the culture of contemporary society, or if any attempt to rekindle the ethos of the 90s, it will look both trite and a little desperate to recapture the impact of Trainspotting had. Before his recent apparent change of heart, Ewan Macgregor claimed that a sequel to Trainspotting would be “a terrible shame“, perhaps he recognizes the potential disappointment and even failure that can come with making a sequel to a project so admired and iconic. Boyle too has observed this danger: “The reason for doing it again is that people cherish the original, people remember it or have caught up with it if they never saw because they were younger. So you want to make sure you don’t disappoint people. That will be the only criteria I think.”

Welsh did a brave thing by writing a follow-up to the universally acclaimed Trainspotting, but much of this success came from his not repeating the formula of Trainspotting, making Porno both enjoyable and refreshingly original. Whether or not Boyle will be able to create a cinematic transition as versatile as this is debatable, but taking Boyle’s outstanding past work into consideration, it will surely make for enjoyable viewing nonetheless.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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My name is Liam Brennan. I am about to graduate from The University if the West of England with a degree in Film and English.

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14 Comments

  1. Lonnie Cath
    0

    Porno is of course nowhere nearly as good as the masterpiece Trainspotting, but that was perhaps to be expected, for that has a white-hot intensity that can never be recaptured.

    I feel that Welsh’s recent work lacks the literary qualities which once made it so exceptional, and seems fixated rather on the sex, drugs and violence.

    • Basically, they’re going to take the title and the characters as a jumping off point, recent interviews with Danny Boyle would seem to indicate that he didn’t think much of the book, either…

  2. Great article! Hope this project doesn’t get ditched.

  3. Jerry A
    0

    While surely I admired the ability of Welsh to write so crudely and vividly about the use (and abuse) of heroin, it is fair to say that writing about making porn movies doesn’t deserve such high praise. I’ll wait and see what Boyle will do with it but my hopes for it are not as high as they should be.

  4. Josh Varney
    0

    “Porno” is a good book imo. I really enjoy how Sick Boy has developed – his extreme ego and contempt for every other character gives him some awesome lines.

    I will avoid spoiling it by saying what happens to him… I also like the gender balance. That scene in the pub garden when Diane gets rid of the sleazy guy (Chezzie) on his way is fantastic.

    So who will be playing Nikki?

  5. Thomas Currington

    never knew about ewan mcgregor being passed up for the beach. Dicaprio was a great richard and a better choice i think

  6. Trance is a disappointment for me. It can only go uphills from here.

  7. Fantastic article – really in-depth. I’m reserving judgement on the film until more information about it is released and/or confirmed, but there’s a lot to think about and it will be interesting to see which direction Boyle takes it in.

  8. I enjoyed the book, but there were not many moments when all the main characters were together… for obvious reasons that is. If this gets made either Renton and Begbie will have to reconcile or the whole thing could end up being a cat and mouse story. How else could they utilise McGregor and Carlyle’s chemistry? Not ideal, IMO.

  9. As much as I’d love to see a follow-up to Trainspotting, I don’t think they could quite capture the magic second time round.

  10. Transpotting sequel with the same director and cast? Dream come true!

  11. Louise Egan

    Great article, it’s very understandable that a film version of “Porno” may be received with less enthusiasm, but I think that’s one of the reasons that the books themselves are so good; they have a certain unpalatable quality in their events and characters that make them an exciting read.

  12. Nicola Kahler

    Great article! To see the Trainspotting cast reunited again… oh my god… how beautiful…

    If Boyle sticks to the plot focus on Sick Boy, Johnny Lee Miller would be a great protagonist who has (over the past year) gained a significant amount of star value through his role as Sherlock Holmes in Elementary. Now seems like the perfect time to produce this film!!

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