Review: Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy

From the author of Trainspotting, as the filmmakers are at pains to point out, comes a gritty drama about drugs set in Scotland. The comparisons are obvious so let’s get them out of the way: Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy is not as good as Trainspotting.

Set in overcast Edinburgh, Ecstasy sees drug enthusiast Lloyd Buist (Adam Sinclair) in his life of smuggling, dealing and clubbing as he works and plays deep in the world of, you guessed it, ecstasy. But when a drug-fuelled party is disrupted by police he struggles to rebalance his life with love interest Heather (Kristin Kreuk), his ailing father’s alcoholism and the ever-present threat of his drug dealing boss, determined to get the money he’s owed.

Whether or not the “artificial” love of ecstasy can be replaced by “real” romantic love is the question Ecstasy sets out to answer, and while the audience is left to make up their own mind, the contrast of the high-energy, drugged-up partygoers in hazy dance montages of electronic music, against the bland conversation and implausible love at first sight romance of Lloyd and Heather makes Ecstasy less even-handed than the filmmakers would like. There’s no obvious reason why attractive, successful, well to do Heather should be attracted to Lloyd, which makes the romantic side of the film an implausible drag. Director Rob Heydon even tries to liven up the couple’s relationship by putting some electro music over a trip to the zoo, which borders on the farcical. The exhilarating buzz offered by the film’s opening is marred by the long, slow comedown of the subsequent romance.

The whole thing is fairly well acted, apart from miscast Canadian Keram Malicki-Sánchez as Lloyd’s mate Ally, who is featured heavily at the start before being all-but forgotten, presumably following the realisation by the filmmakers that he can’t perform a Scottish accent.

Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy also suffers from a sense that we’ve seen it before. The grey British cityscapes and rough British characters wandering around grimy, British streets have become commonplace in any British “real life” drama, and the story of a criminal doing one last crime to save a loved one from the threats of a crime boss has been done to death. It’s a film of predictable solutions to familiar problems. The dangers of drug use are on display as Lloyd’s friend Woodsy (Billy Boyd, in “this is not The Lord of the Rings” mode) is dragged off to a mental hospital, but there’s a feeling that this is just done to keep the censors happy. From a picture which trades on the reflected glory of Trainspotting, we expect better.

In spite of its flaws, Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy is perfectly watchable for fans of gritty British dramas. There’s enough sex, violence and partying to make up for what it lacks in emotion, and if you want a Scottish drug drama but can’t stomach Trainspotting this could be for you.

5/10

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