Content Warning: This article includes pictures and descriptions of drug addiction.
British cult film Trainspotting it reached new heady heights for British cinema. A brave but fun version of the book of the same name, it is in turn fun, scary and provocative. With its stark depiction of drug addiction, the film summarizes the cheating and disenfranchisement experienced by a group of addicts.
Audiences have a love-hate relationship with many of the movie’s characters – they’re relatable and objectionable, and also incredibly intriguing. Their antihero status makes them some of the best characters in modern movies. More than 20 years after the film was released, the dejected youth of Trainspotting they still live large in cinematic memory.
8 Mother Superior – Peter Mullan
The Mother Superior, named after the religious leader of a convent or other religious group, is Renton’s trusted dealer, who also has a long-standing heroin habit. His experience has taught him that none of them are likely to be able to quit their addiction.
Mother Superior embodies the notion that, for many addicts, their relationship with substances trumps their friendships. He’s cheeky and even nice, but when Renton overdoses, the Mother Superior shoves him into a taxi, thus avoiding the inevitable line of questioning that would come with an ambulance. It’s this action and the fact that she’s really taking advantage of young children for profit, even if it costs them their lives, coupled with her lack of screen time, that puts Mother Superior at number 8.
7 Gail Houston by Shirley Henderson
Before their roles in the Bridget jones Y Harry Potter franchises, Shirley Henderson played Spud’s jaded girlfriend, Gail Houston, in Trainspotting. Gail keeps Spud at a distance, rejecting the notion of any kind of physical intimacy at the beginning of their relationship, having read in Cosmopolitan that it is a good way to avoid having their relationship defined by sex.
At least that’s what he tells Spud. When she talks about the situation with her friends, she tells them that watching him suffer is “too much fun” to give in. Gail has a figure in love, but she is by no means weak, she is just a woman trying to figure out what she wants from their relationship.
6 Tommy Mackenzie – Kevin McKidd
Tommy is the most genuinely likeable character in the main group, and his story is one of the saddest. Along with Begbie, he’s also the only one who doesn’t have a heroin addiction, at least at first. Footballer in a relatively happy relationship, he is one of the few characters in Trainspotting that arouses genuine affection in the viewer.
While Tommy’s affability makes him one of the most relatable characters in the movie, he’s also less intriguing than some of the other characters on this list. That said, his decision to try heroin after a difficult breakup and the resulting consequences are hard to see, but they make him an interesting character, even as he sees his inevitable demise.
5 Diane Coulston as Kelly Macdonald
Renton picks up Diane from a nightclub after watching her unceremoniously dispatch another suitor, but it isn’t until the next morning that he realizes she’s underage. After blackmailing Renton into seeing her again, she proceeds to offer him encouragement and advice, especially while he works in London.
Despite his age, he ends up being one of the true positive influences in Renton’s life. Diane is herself charming, scathing, kind, and scheming, making her one of the most attractive characters in the film.
4 Daniel “Spud” Murphy – Ewen Bremner
The lovable airhead of the group, Spud doesn’t feel like he has much going for him, which is one of the reasons he turns to drugs. His most memorable scene is arguably the darkest in the movie, in which he accidentally throws his dirty sheets on his girlfriend and parents.
But Spud’s job interview scene is more indicative of the character’s spirit. Encouraged by Renton, Spud is quick to give himself more encouragement and enthusiasm for the interview, and to make sure he doesn’t get the job. Despite these scenes, viewers identify with Spud: he is silly and sincere. Unfortunately, for Spud, using drugs seems like the easiest way to survive.
3 Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson – Jonny Lee Miller
Sean Connery fan Sick Boy is one of the most villainous members of the group. His name comes from his morbid tendencies, as seen when he shoots a dog with an air rifle for no particular reason. Sick Boy considers himself above drugs and the lifestyle they lead; instead, he sees himself as a connoisseur of the culture and source of knowledge.
Sick Boy’s apparent lack of awareness, as well as his skewed perspective on himself, makes him one of the most interesting characters in the film. He’s not always necessarily very nice, and the gap between how he sees himself and how the audience perceives him is huge, making Sick Boy a fascinating character.
two Francis Begbie – Robert Carlyle
Francis “Franco” Begbie is a cruel and terrifying character, and the rest of the group is often too fearful to confront or protest against him. Like Sick Boy, Begbie believes she is superior to the rest of the gang, but unlike Sick Boy, Begbie is not addicted to drugs. Rather, he is addicted to violence.
Played with astonishing ferocity by Robert Carlyle, Begbie is terribly unpredictable, although her friends always seem to know that she is going to resort to violence. Begbie enjoys the power that his cruelty gives him, even over his friends, making him an incredibly fearsome villain and an exciting character to watch on screen.
1 Mark Renton by Ewan McGregor
Renton is intelligent, charismatic, and somewhat privileged, and it is these traits that help him escape the fate many of his friends seem destined for. While Spud is sent to jail, Renton disputes a rehabilitation program; As Tommy succumbs to his addiction, Renton’s parents help him crash away and overcome withdrawal.
Despite his flaws, Renton is one of the most likeable and related characters of the bunch. With a lack of self-awareness in Sick Boy, Spud, and Begbie, Renton is a compelling storyteller – no other character could tell the story quite like him. Finally, it also breaks the cycle of addiction, which is perhaps why Trainspotting it’s really their story.
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