There are few films that capture the grit, gunge, and pessimism at the heart of British social realism as perfectly as Trainspotting, Danny Boyle’s 1997 film adaptation of the Irvine Welsh novel of the same name. Like all era-defining works, the film is at once repulsive and utterly mesmerising, drawing us into the dark and twisted world of a group of heroin addicts living in Edinburgh even as we attempt to unlatch ourselves from their sweaty grip.
Despite being set in Edinburgh, much of Trainspotting was in fact filmed in Scotland’s capital, Glasgow. But while Boyle regarded the two cities as being somewhat interchangeable, the truth is that they couldn’t be more different. Where Edinburgh has narrow cobblestone streets, a towering castle, and neo-gothic architecture, Glasgow, save from a few notable landmarks such as St Mungos Cathedral and the surrounding Necropolis, is, on the whole, much more post-industrial.
That being said, the two cities have both been the focus of extensive urban regeneration in recent years, with great swathes of Glasgow and Edinburgh now gentrified beyond all recognition. It’s clear this process was already underway in Edinburgh by the time Welsh sat down to write Trainspotting in 1993.
Indeed, the scene in which Renton and his friends beat the crap out of an American couple who have come to the city for the annual Fringe Festival, seems like a deliberate affront to the hordes of tourists and performers who descend on the city every August, and whose presence has transformed Edinburgh into one of the most creative (and thus expensive) cities in Britain.
Glasgow has changed a lot since the 1990s too, going under something of an architectural makeover, the roots of which lie in the cultural regeneration projects of the 1980s and ’90s, and which have not only transformed a number of derelict sites into cultural and residential spaces but have also pushed many of Glasgow’s more idiosyncratic spots out of frame. Here, we’ll be using the filming locations of Trainspotting to trace the changing faces of both Glasgow and Edinburgh
The gentrified spots of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting:
Princes Street chase scene, Edinburgh
One of the few sequences to actually be shot in Edinburgh begins on Princes Street, the main thoroughfare that runs through the city centre. Constructed in 1781 on what had been a patch of muddy bogland, It is here that we first meet Renton wide-eyed and cackling, as the sound of Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust For Life’ blazes in the background.
After busting out of Menzies Bookstore (now a branch of Next) and making a dash for it down Princes Street, Renton makes his way down the steps from Leith Street to Calton Road, ending up on Calton Street Bridge, where he is promptly hit by a car. “Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin opener,” Renton tells us, as he runs along a street that, since the independent retailers were consumed by high street chains, now looks like practically every other shopping district in the UK.
Crossland’s bar brawl scene, Glasgow
When Danny Boyle made Trainspotting, he chose a pub called Crossland’s as the location for the infamous scene in which Begbie throws a pint glass over his shoulder onto an unsuspecting drinker, starting a bar brawl in which he takes the utmost pleasure.
It was Crossland’s unique balcony that made it the perfect spot to film the scene. These days, however, you’ll find that it has been transformed into The Kelbourne Saint, an up-market drinking and dining establishment with a “commitment to ethically-sourced, sustainable produce”.
Volcano Club, Glasgow
The pub in which Renton first meets Diane, who it later transpires, much to Renton’s dismay, is a 15-year-old schoolgirl, was filmed inside a real Glasgow club, Cinders, which could once be found on 15 Benalder Street, close to Kelvinhall Station.
At this time, Cinders was a popular hangout spot for young Glasgwegians looking for a fix of Blondie, but it has since been demolished and replaced by luxury flats. It’s a fate that has befallen many of the nightclubs that defined the city’s rave scene in the 1990s. Today, you’re more likely to hear the sound of some slippered ex-teacher watching Casualty than the sound of thumping bass.
Café D’Jaconelli, Glasgow
Let’s end on a high. While practically all of the spots that came to define the look of Trainspotting have seen drastic changes in the last 20 years or so, Café D’Jaconelli remains pretty much exactly the same, probably because it has become something of a pilgrimage site for Trainspotting fans over the years.
Located on Glasgow’s Maryhill Raod, it is Café D’Jaconelli where Spud nervously drinks a milkshake with Renton prior to his job interview. Housed between a fish and chip takeaway known as The Codfather and a small launderette, the cafe’s vintage leather booths and varnished tables remain entirely intact.