Danny Boyle- A national treasure

an open letter to danny boyle

Artwork by Chloe Leeson

I want Danny Boyle to advertise me Kellogs Cornflakes; I want his cheeky grin plastered across some Flora Buttery and an advert featuring him drinking Yorkshire Tea after a busy day on set. To me, he makes more quintessentially British films than the likes of Richard Curtis and Edgar Wright (potentially not Shane Meadows but, you’re almost there, Danny) put together. His films are varied and full of life (something I seek out because I apparently lack?), iconic and good-hearted. His work has on countless occasions changed my life and it is here in this moment that I must confess my undying love for Sir Danny Boyle.

As a passionate advocate for ‘up’t North’ and the working class way of life and its depictions in film (hence my reluctance to compare him with Shane Meadows), it fills me with tremendous joy seeing a lovely common Lancashire fella, a true north westerner (as a Cumbrian, this debate is intense for me) and an all-round positive guy up there in the ranks of the world’s best directors. With a career spanning 10 feature films, a handful of TV features, an Olympic opening ceremony and an Oscar in-hand, it’s not difficult to understand why he’s one of our nation’s treasures.

Ol’ Danny boy’s first film, Shallow Grave, came out in 1994 and starred fresh-on-the-scene and frequent early-days collaborator, Ewan McGregor (National Treasure of Scotland). The film was a critical success and re-vitalised British cinema with its witty mystery crime thriller vibe. Despite being his first film, it’s often forgotten because of his second one, an adaptation of an Irvine Welsh book, Trainspotting. Trainspotting’s tale of addiction told through the life of Renton and his fucked-up mates became an instant cult classic, catapulted Ewan McGregor into the publics hearts and limelight and British cinema was again, reborn. Again, as a northern lass, I was whole-heartedly involved in the Scottish accents, the gang’s passion for Iggy Pop (‘Lust For Life’ is my favourite song because of this film), drinking, drugs and having sex. It’s gritty and dirty and common and not like all the posh London drivel I’m so used to seeing. The films trippy choppy editing style was like nothing I’d seen before, the music pumped through my veins like Renton’s heroin rush and the mantra of ‘Choose Life’ adorned one of my best mates rooms pre-uni as our sesh-den and our prayer, so much so that we were all going to stick-n-poke it on each other as a wonderful homage to youth and Ewan McGregor’s smiling face. Only one friend was semi-successful and now has a scabby ‘Cho’ scrawled on her thigh in Indian ink. ‘THIS IS YOUTH! THIS IS LIVING!’ I screamed to myself internally. ‘THANK YOU IRVINE WELSH! DANNY BOYLE HAD CHANGED MY LIFE! YES! I WILL CHOOSE LIFE! Thank you, thank you, thank you.’

Trainspotting’s dive into the world of dance music changed my life once more. Boyle has a keen ear for his tunes and the first time I heard Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy .NUXX’ was the day I was reborn. Considering I usually listen to boring white-male fronted indie rock, when people find out my second favourite song of all time is Born Slippy, it’s quite a shock. Blistering electronica ripped through my ears and screams of ‘SHOUTING LAGER LAGER LAGER’ are often running through my thought process; 100% the greatest dance song of ALL TIME. This love accumulated on New Year’s Eve 2013 when the song came on perfectly timed at midnight, which was essentially Danny Boyle looking down on me from somewhere telling me I was doing ok.

The mention of dance music leads me to my favourite, but definitely critically speaking, Boyle’s worst film, The Beach. Released in 2000 and an adaptation of the book by Alex Garland, the film sparked a feud between McGregor and Boyle as Leonardo Dicaprio was cast instead of him. Leonardo plays Richard, a naïve but adventurous American who ventures to Thailand and discovers a secret community on a nearby island. The first time I watched it, it never left my head, and I’m pretty sure for the entirety of 2013 I just shouted ‘THE BEACH’ every time someone even mentioned the sea or a film recommendation. It got down to my very core. Feeling weirdly in touch with turn of the millennia interests (considering I was 5 at the time), the story of unguided travel to undiscovered places, trying new things and going completely mental really spoke to me. Shortly after I bought a huge wall map and adorned it with labels marking everywhere I need to go. I’ve lost interest in package holidays and never want to seem like an awful English tourist.  The opening scene of Richard walking through the streets of Thailand and narrating as Leftfield’s ‘Snakeblood’ plays in the background gave me the same sense of exhilaration as Trainspotting’s ‘running through the street’ scene did.

(watch until 4:20, or, like, watch the entire movie, whatever)

The Beach’s intro formed a new mantra inside me ‘Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it’, I want that whole paragraph of narration etched into my eyelids as a thumping techno soundtrack maps my way. Again, Boyle introduces me to more music; Leftfield, Unkle and my absolute favourite chill-out guy, Moby. I can admit that The Beach is flawed, the final act is pretty awful and Richard is a total dick, but that first part up until they’ve been with the community for a couple of days is absolutely magical and dream-like.

Boyle’s collaboration with Alex Garland on The Beach sparked more collabs in the films 28 Days Later and Sunshine, both magnificent pieces of cinema and the former being one of the finest British zombie flicks ever.  Sunshine was Boyle’s first delve into the realm of sci-fi and it’s a completely brilliant film but it’s greatest achievement is the addition of again, Underworld and the AMAZING John Murphy composition, Adagio in D Minor, which makes you feel as if the entire world is about to fall down around you and you can do nothing but watch it in slow-motion.

I’m sitting here now and listening to that song, and I feel that it perfectly encompasses all of Boyle’s films. He has said himself that all of his films are about an ordinary human being overcoming extra-ordinary circumstances. His diverse back-catalogue has everything from a man trapped in between some rocks, a zombie outbreak to an Indian boy (Dev Patel, omg, BAE) playing Who Wants To Be A Millionaire; every genre Boyle tries to do he conquers it completely and that’s a hard feat for any director. His complete sense of humanity and the joys and tribulations of life he depicts are what make his work so important to me and what make him a national treasure. Because even when he’s filming in a different country, you can still feel the British way of life seep through and his intense love of ordinary folk like us.

By Chloe Leeson



Chloe Leeson is 19 and from the north of England (the proper north). She believes Harmony Korine is the future and is pretty sure she coined the term ‘selfie central’. She doesn’t like Pina Coladas or getting caught in the rain but she does like Ezra Miller & Dane DeHaan a whole lot. Her favourite films are The Beach, Lords of Dogtown and Into the Wild. But DON’T talk to her about Paranormal Activity. She rants @kawaiigoff.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.