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  • Writer's pictureEllen Cheshire

Close Reading: Trainspotting

Updated: May 5, 2023

2018 saw the publication of Illuminate Publishing's textbook WJEC Eduqas Film Studies for A Level and AS for which I wrote a number chapters, inlcuding the Film Form section. I included a number of case studies - but this one didn't make the final cut, due to space restrictions.

By analysing a scene drawing on all its component elements: cinematography, mise-en-scène, sound, editing and performance you can discover further layers of meaning.

This might be of use/interest to those studying A Level film. Buy the text book here.

Trainspotting 00:16:29 – 00:17:25

d. Danny Boyle

The scene begins with an overhead shot of a busy bar, the camera moves up to a higher level and over the heads of the central characters in one continuous movement, which then zooms to a head and shoulder shot of Begbie (Carlyle). It is filmed from eye-level and is subjective, as though we, the viewer, are drawing in a chair to join them. Begbie placed in the centre of the frame to show that he is the most important character here.

The camera movements and editing combine to create constant movement, which mirrors Carlyle’s performance. His face is animated with large movements around this eyes and mouth, he is always moving his body and gesturing. He takes up more physical space than the others, with his right knee bent up and out over Tommy’s (McKidd) leg. The others are listening, no other character speaks in this scene. Their body movements are smaller and their micro expressions will betray many emotions from boredom to irritation to concern. There is also a manipulation of narrative time through the use of a flashback (a two-second shot of Begbie playing snooker).

The props are all carefully considered, here the table is littered with empty glasses, indicating that they’ve been drinking for some time. From this we can deduce that they are likely to be drunk, particularly Begbie who is talking loudly and dominating the conversation. The diegetic sound of the chatting of the drinkers that accompanied the overhead establishing shot of the pub, becomes quieter when we move into Begbie’s monologue.

As the group are placed close together, we assume they are friends and that the five men are the most important characters as they are all face-on, with the two women cramped at the edge of the frame in the shade, wearing dark colours. They are wearing similar styles of clothing (costumes), sporty casual, and they all seem to smoke, which brings them together socially.

As well as what we can see on screen, there are also off screen spaces to consider. Begbie’s story ends with him throwing an empty glass over his shoulder on to the crowd below, although we don’t see it land, we know from earlier that there is height distance from which the glass will cause damage, and people below who are likely to get hurt. This shot is held in freezeframe for four seconds, before cutting to another freezeframe of Tommy’s reaction, which again is held for four seconds. All diegetic sound stops, and the silence is filled with Renton’s (MacGregor) non-diegetic voice-over narration, which reminds us that we are being told this story from one character’s narrative viewpoint, and that Renton remains the central character.

Studying a scene for all the hidden ‘clues’ left by the filmmakers to add a further level of meaning, offers us a shorthand to what is happening beneath the surface, what has narratively preceded this scene, and what might be to come.

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