Trainspotting and Elizabeth

Here is the text of an sticle that appeared today in the Daily Telegraph in London.
Shekhar Kapur, director of Badit Queen, Elizabeth and Four Feathers, explains to Marc Lee why he could never have made Elizabeth had it not been for Trainspotting Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting and Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth are two of the most memorable British films of the Nineties, both shot with eye-catching verve, both featuring a riveting central performance. Yet, as cinematic experiences, they could hardly be more different: one drags us through the sordid lives of a bunch of drug-addled losers, the other sweeps us into the court of the Virgin Queen. Nevertheless, Kapur insists he could never have made his film had it not been for Trainspotting…….

Boyle’s adaptation of the Irvine Welsh novel (Oscar-nominated screenplay by John Hodge) is the story of heroin user Renton (Ewan McGregor) and his similarly distracted gang of mates, living on the margins of society in Edinburgh. Renton tries to kick the habit early in the film but fails; later he heads for London and respectability, but even there he can’t escape his past.
However, the plot of Trainspotting is secondary to its unflinching depiction of lives made wonderful by drugs and simultaneously wrecked by them. It has a remarkable raw energy throughout, and while much of what happens is horrible, much of it is scabrously funny, too.
Among the most memorable sequences is Renton’s attempt to go cold turkey in which he nails planks over the door of his room, having stocked up with food supplies, a TV and a series of buckets for urine, faeces and vomit. Then there’s the appalling moment in which he is swallowed by “the worst toilet in Scotland” as he tries to retrieve a lost stash, and the scene that perfectly describes the ecstasy of a hit as his eyes roll back and he literally sinks through the floor.
So how does all this connect with the queenly life of the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn? Kapur begins by explaining how he came to direct Elizabeth. “I was sitting in a hotel in Los Angeles and [the producer] Tim Bevan came to me and said, ‘Would you make Elizabeth?’ And I thought what an adventurous idea, what an adventurous producer, because I had no knowledge of history. All I knew about her was that she was the Renaissance Queen, the Virgin Queen. I found myself saying yes just for the adventure of it. Then I thought better of it and called Tim and said, ‘Look, I’m in two minds. The costume drama is one of my least favourite film genres.’?”
However, Kapur had another change of heart the next day, telling Bevan there was only one British film he’d seen recently that really carried him away, and that was Trainspotting. Could he, Kapur asked, take the Trainspotting approach to a costume drama? The answer was yes. “And so I did. Trainspotting freed me up from the strictures of Western cinema. I found it an incredibly liberating film. It was a film that lived on the edge of the current grammar of filmmaking – and then broke through.
“It wasn’t that I tried to emulate anything in Trainspotting. It just helped me break this anxiety I had that I was coming from India, I’d never shot a film overseas before, and I’d have to confine myself to what a British film should be.
“Once I got into shooting it, my filmmaking roots kicked in – the colours, the non-fear of melodrama. Trainspotting is a very melodramatic film, but that synchs perfectly with the lives of these people.”
That melodrama is matched by the surreal imagery Boyle employs. One unsettling scene has a baby crawling on the ceiling. “That was horrific, but it was hypnotic. You are repulsed by it, but you never disconnect from it. It never stopped being cinematic.”
This kind of filmmaking, says Kapur, has a Dali-esque quality. “It touches on something mythic, something in your subconscious.”
What did he make of the controversy surrounding the film? “I don’t think it was pro-drugs. It was a brilliant insight into the lives of people who take drugs. It wasn’t moralistic, but I don’t think anybody could have watched it and thought, ‘Great – that’s what I want to do.’ Quite the contrary.
“Trainspotting is one of those films – Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is another – that we can look back on now and realise just how challenging it was dramatically. They’re both films that come from completely brilliant minds.”
# ‘Bandit Queen’, Shekhar Kapur’s film about the Indian folk hero Phoolan Devi, is out now on DVD.

12 thoughts on “Trainspotting and Elizabeth

  1. “Requiem for a Dream “is another brilliant film, along the lines of Trainspotting!
    Recommended viewing for film buffs!!
    Ellen Burstyn won an Oscar for her role i think!

  2. shekhar bhai – here’s a suggestion..
    like you did with books(thru Sonya’s column),
    why not also have listing of some of the brilliant cinema/films of the world as a regular section on your blog. There everyone can discuss as well add on their recommendations to the list describing a basis of the recommendation in few words.

  3. Shekarji, I’ve often wondered how filmmakers get their ideas and as to what motivates them to begin projects when they do. It’s extremely interesting to note that Trainspotting served as a trigger of sorts for Elizabeth… and to think that both the films belong to such diametrically opposing genres! I guess it is the same motivation that guides a director to helm a project that shapes the intent of the film, which eventually translates to the audiences, a rarity in films these days.
    I happened to watch a documentary on the making of Star Wars recently and came to know that Kurosawa-san’s Hidden Fortress (1958) served as the basis for George Lucas’ Star Wars saga! I watched both the films several years apart (Star Wars being first) and sub-consciously felt there was plenty of common ground in terms of premise (a princess on the run), the visual story-telling techniques and structure of narrative (the chase in the jungle) and finally the way the characters are defined in both the films (the two robots vs. the two luckless peasants). Yet it was only when George Lucas described in the documentary that I realized that these two films had something in common 🙂 Ditto with John Wayne westerns which inspired Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns, which in-turn influenced Eastwood’s Dirty Harry series.
    I have always been curious about what the starting point for Bandit Queen was. Though I have watched the film several times over the years, the narrative was so over-powering (like Clockwork Orange) that I could never detect the origins of the film. So, was there some sort of trigger? Was it just an original thought that motivated you? Or, was it an external factor (Channel Four?) that kindled your interests in the project? It would be great if you could elaborate in one of your future blogs on film…

  4. Dear Mr. Kapur,
    While visually stunning, I can’t help but wonder why you’d leave out two of the most remembered and repeated quotes in history from your film, Elizabeth the Golden Age. First and foremost, you left out the Jubilee Speech, which is short enough to have been included, at least in part. Secondly, and I’m bewildered why this is absent since you certainly built up Philip II’s religious beliefs well enough, is his quote “God is an Englishman” upon hearing of the winds destroying his Armada.

  5. Dear Mr. Kapur,
    My name is Birgit Gabriela Schuster. I am studieing History at the university of vienna and Im working on my master thesis.
    My master thesis is about the historical aspects of Elisabeth I and the base of this paper are the two films about Elisabeth I (Elizabeth; Elizabeth – The golden Age). I already analysed a lot of background informations of this films, but until now I couldnt find any information about the literature which were used for the production of the two mentioned movies.
    Please, can you help me with some informations?!
    Thank’s a lot!
    Your sincerely
    Birgit Gabriela Schuster

  6. We live in an Orwellian time. Up is down, good is evil – evil is good, don’t believe your eyes, believe the media. I don’t care if the pitiful remains of what once was England colluded with this idiotic movie about Elizabeth I, it’s still a load of Krap, Shekhar-style.
    Bye, bye Western Civilization, hello Muslim Hell on Earth.

  7. Just watched Elizabeth on HBO few days back….simply brilliant.
    There are so many movies around, sometimes you miss out the real good ones which you should actually remove time and watch.
    Hopefully Ill get my hands on Bandit Queen too.

  8. I recently bought the DVD ‘Elizabeth’. I like historical films / drama. I prefer to watch movies in the German language too, so seeing that the DVD gave this option I bought it. I hadn’t seen any previous reviews of the film. I found this movie absoluteley riviting and stunning. Never have I seen such a movie in which the acting, the scenery, the music and the settings so brought to life the events that were being portrayed. It’s just such a masterful and beautiful work. I enjoyed it thoroughly. Many thanks.

  9. Will there be a final chapter of Elizabeth? I loved the first two movies and hope sincerely there will be a third.

  10. yes, I hope so. I have a story in mind about Elizabeth’s last days, which I will get down to writing.

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