The Best Ewan McGregor Movie Was A Gamble

By Britta DeVore | 3 months ago

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A fan-favorite actor with a long list of titles under his belt, it would be hard for many to pick out the best film of Ewan McGregor’s career. While Doctor Sleep, Big Fish, and even the actor’s portrayal of Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first three episodes of Star Wars, may be some of our favorites, the actor’s 1996 drug-fueled drama, Trainspotting is definitely his top piece of all time. What makes Trainspotting different from other projects McGregor has taken on over the years is its deprivation and depth. The story isn’t particularly uplifting and, while it does take a comedic tone at times, it also shines a very real light on the deep pits surrounding drug addiction.

In the film, a pale, strungout, and stringbean Ewan McGregor stars as Mark Renton. Mark lives with his parents in Edinburgh and spends his off time – which is the entire film because he’s chronically unemployed – with an eccentric cast of characters who all bond over their love of heroin. Throughout the film, Mark, Simon “Sick boy” Williamson, Daniel “Spud” Murphy, and Swanney “Mother Superior” risk life and limb to attain their next stash before the withdrawal symptoms hit.

We also see the other side of addiction through the eyes of Mark’s parents who will stop at nothing to help their son and keep him sober once and for all. Audiences look on as the gang gets high and then hits the lowest of the lows with everything from overdose scares, HIV/AIDS revelations, and an absolutely terrifying scene involving a baby. Somehow, the film’s screenplay scribe, John Hodge, and director, Danny Boyle, were able to keep an underlying comedic tone through (almost) every dark moment. Starring alongside Ewan McGregor to bring the tale of a group of friends hooked on smack to life is Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Kevin McKidd, Kelly Macdonald, and Peter Mullan. 

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Based on the book of the same name by Irvine Welsh, the film’s producer, Andrew Macdonald, was the first to recognize the incredible on screen adaptation the story could make. After passing it over to Danny Boyle and John Hodge, the team took off running and quickly came up with a concept for the project. As casting loomed near, it didn’t take them long to decide on Ewan McGregor as their leading man. Boyle had already experienced the young man’s talent first hand while working with him on the 1994 thriller and dark comedy, Shallow Grave. Because of the dark but comedic skills McGregor demonstrated during Shallow Grave, he was a no-brainer for the role of Mark Renton. Throwing himself completely into the character, McGregor shaved his head and lost a whopping 28 pounds for the role. 

Making its big-screen debut, Trainspotting took front and center at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival where it was a hit with critics and viewers alike. However, due to the graphic nature of the feature, it was unable to place in the competition. Originally opening in Britain, the film tested the waters with an eight theater premiere across the United States and Canada in July 1996. Soon opening in theaters everywhere, it quickly proved to be a moneymaker, raking in $16.4 million in North America altogether. Across the pond, the movie earned the title of Britain’s top-grossing film in 1996.

Nominated at the British Academy Film Awards in 1996 for both Best British Film and Best Adapted Screenplay, John Hodge would take home the honor of the latter. Currently, Trainspotting sits on Rotten Tomatoes with a 91% approval score, something that is hard to come by on the ratings site. Publications such as The Guardian, Empire, Rolling Stone, and many more praised the very real and at times hard to watch portrayal of drug usage in the rainy city of Edinburgh, character arcs, acting, and soundtrack that sets the mood of the film. The legendary Roger Ebert gave his stamp of approval, awarding the film three out of four stars, specifically for the way Ewan McGregor and his fellow actors portrayed the character’s relationships with one another.

Throughout the years, Trainspotting has continued chugging ahead and still has a cult following. It remained so popular that in 2017, Danny Boyle finally got his wish and was able to direct a sequel, T2 Trainspotting. Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, and Robert Carlyle all reunited for the film which picks up 20 years after the events of the original. The follow up proves that no matter what the year or situation, Trainspotting will forever remain a classic as well as Ewan McGregor’s best movie.