You can take me higher...

TRAINSPOTTING Danny Boyle (18) SENSE AND SENSIBILITY Ang Lee (U); Two films, one heritage. But is history all that connects these two sure- fire hits?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of 10 pints down the boozer washed down with Scotch chasers, a first-class bar brawl, a porn video and a few grams of smack. There are two new British films this week and they represent the high and low of our film culture in all its glorious variety, its yin and yang, its id and its ego. Each will find an audience, though whether the same people will enjoy both is an interesting question. Your choice depends, really, on whether you would rather get high with a junkie in an Edinburgh pub toilet, or take tea with the Misses Dashwood in their Devonshire cottage.

Trainspotting arrives stamped with the hallmark "instant cult". It is nervy, fast-moving, constantly inventive, performed with gusto and driven by a stylish soundtrack. One of the characters, a James Bond buff who can sound off at will about 007 minutiae, could have come from a Quentin Tarantino movie. This is not the aspirational world of Shallow Grave, the excessively successful first film from the same directing-producing- writing team; in place of that murderous trio of yuppies in their achingly stylish apartment we have a bunch of heroin addicts shooting up, punching up and throwing up in a suite of grimy pubs, hovels (flats to die in, not to die for) and one latrine billed convincingly as the Worst Toilet in Scotland.

None of which necessarily means that Trainspotting won't find favour. Feelgood is out, and downbeat is big box-office right now, whether it's killing oneself through booze (Leaving Las Vegas) or stumbling through a series of hideous murders (Seven). The mood of the piece is wired: the idea is that (shock!) people do drugs because it's fun. Although that insight is hardly as new as the film-makers seem to imagine: there are enough Sixties movies hymning marijuana and acid, and Gus Van Sant painted a romantic portrait of the smackhead-life in Drugstore Cowboy a couple of years ago.

Near the beginning of Trainspotting, our hero, in quest of the opium suppositories he has evacuated in a bout of diarrhoea, plunges into the infamous toilet and, as his feet disappear down the pan, the film goes surreal, cutting to him swimming through beautiful waters. Rarely has total self-degradation seemed so seductive.

We haven't mentioned the story for the good reason that there isn't much of one; as the ubiquitous publicity (a black-and-white rogues' gallery of the five main actors) suggests, this is a character-driven piece, drifting and picaresque, going with the flow. Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), the narrator, has turned to junk as an act of rebellion against the Argos catalogue lifestyle ("mortgage, starter home, leisure wear..."), tries to come off it, gets high again, cheats his friends (the ending is a startling echo of the betrayal in Shallow Grave). These are the sociopathic Begbie, Sick Boy, a smooth, peroxide womaniser, and the goofy, ingenuous Spud.

Diane, the fifth person featured on the poster, fades, like all the other women, midway through and, with her, a more distanced take on the beer-footie-fighting-drugs mentality. It's emphatically a lads' movie. Compared to others who have poked their fingers into the underbelly of Britain - Stephen Frears in My Beautiful Laundrette, Ken Loach, of whom the film- makers talk with polite respect but no obvious enthusiasm - the social and emotional range on display here is very slim. As in Shallow Grave, there's a clever callousness at the core - it's hard to care about the characters. In one scene, a baby dies while her mother and the gang get high. It's supposed to cause some profound change in Sick Boy, the undeclared father, but he seems much the same afterwards as he was before. Later, slightly despicably, the sprog is resurrected as a shock effect in a cold- turkey scene, crawling across the ceiling and twirling its head, Exorcist- style. For all its brilliance, the film finally feels sour and hollow. But this gifted team may well have a great movie in them yet.

Beneath the light touch and apparent gentility, Sense and Sensibility fields some harsh realities of its own. Like the book, Emma Thompson's screenplay opens with the inheritance which, tied to the male line, has reduced the three Dashwood sisters and their mother to penury. And it concludes with more money: a wedding in a shower of gold coins for which the guests scrabble greedily. If the women's vision seems narrow, that's because it has to be: unable either to inherit or to earn a fortune in their own right, they must focus all their energies on marrying well.

We must stress here that penury is relative. It's difficult to imagine what pounds 500 a year might mean by today's standards, but one does have to strain a little to pity a family that can only afford two servants. And when the Dashwoods eye, with deep dismay, the Devonshire "cottage" that is to be their humble new home, what we see is an estate agent's wet dream, a handsome country house in a breathtaking setting.

Sense and Sensibility brings Thompson two Academy Award nominations: one, well-deserved, for her lean and pointed screenplay, and a second for her lead performance as Elinor, the level-headed elder sister. This is almost becoming an annual tradition, and one feels she would be Oscar nominated for announcing that tea is served. It's not that her performance here is anything less than professional, but it has to be said that, in this world where women mature and marry young (considered over the hill by their mid-twenties), she ought, at 36, to be playing Mrs Dashwood, not the female lead. Thompson's range is not infinite and, as in Carrington, this central miscasting prevents us from quite making the leap of faith.

As Edward Ferrars, Hugh Grant stutters charmingly, fiddling with the knick-knacks on the mantlepiece as he declares himself to Elinor - it's funny, yes, but it's also a lazy period replay of his performance in Four Weddings and Nine Months. However, the remaining cast is as sturdy as we have come to expect from this kind of film, with Kate Winslett (also Oscar-nominated) sweetly vulnerable as Marianne, and a small but delicious comic turn from Hugh Laurie as the tart, long-suffering Mr Palmer.

Ang Lee, the Taiwanese director of The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman, might seem an odd choice for this quintessentially British story. But he's a master at intrigue which revolves around deceptions and sudden revelations - perfect for a story where many of the most significant events occur off screen in London, to where all three male leads disappear mid-way through. Characters are never what they first seem - nor even the film's locations; only near the end, as the Dashwoods' horizons open up, do we realise that their cottage is not deep inland but right by the sea.

Lee has a trick of holding away from the big emotional moments. In one scene, Elinor listens to her sisters and mother sobbing their hearts out, all behind their bedroom doors, as she sits resignedly on the stairs sipping a cup of tea - and, even then, Lee shoots her from above and behind so that her face is invisible. It's the perfect visual equivalent for Jane Austen's ironic detachment - and while there are no visual pyrotechnics in this movie, one feels that less can sometimes be more.

n Both films are on general release from tomorrow

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions