My good friend Ruth who runs the marvellous site Flixchatter has started a very interesting blogathon called “Small Roles… Big Performances” where I have been kindly asked to be involved. (As are you, dear readers). The aim is to highlight a specific performance by a lesser known actor that you feel deserves mention. To find out more about Ruth’s blogathon, or to get involved, go here.
In my contribution to this, I’ve chosen the very underrated actor Robert Carlyle and his iconic portrayal of Francis Begbie from Danny Boyle’s “Trainspotting“.


By his own admission, Carlyle never wanted to move to L.A. and become embroiled in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. He wanted to stay in his home town of Glasgow, Scotland and continue his work on more ‘authentic’ film’s and on his theatre company “Raindog” (named after the Tom Waits album). This type of integrity has to be admired amongst actors these days. As a result, Carlyle remains less known and under appreciated despite possessing a vast range beyond most UK actors.


Francis Begbie is, quite simply, a highly volatile and unpredictable sociopath. In a film filled with detestable characters, Begbie is, without doubt, the film’s most terrifying and Carlyle delivers an inspired and virtuoso performance in capturing his arbitrary acts of sickening violence.


However, despite his alpha-male status Carlyle himself believes that this was down to Begbie’s repressed homosexuality and his “fear of being outed”. As a result, Carlyle personally chose to dress in Pringle sweaters and stay-pressed trousers. It was a decision that, a surprised, Danny Boyle agreed to go with and even Irvine Welsh (the author of the novel) agreed that Begbie could be viewed in this way; Carlyle’s understanding of this volatile character seemed to be spot on.


The skill in Carlyle’s performance though, is his ability to be malevolent yet do in it such a way, that his portrayal of this character also contains a lot of humour. All be it, in a nervous laughter kind of way. He manages that rare ability, to be both frightening and fun and he creates a genuine sense of unease and unpredictability whenever he’s onscreen.


The entire cast of the film are on top of their game and it projected the careers of Ewan McGregor, Kelly Macdonald, Peter Mullan and to some extent Kevin McKidd, so for Carlyle to outshine them all is testament alone. He doesn’t exactly elevate this film from a poor standard (it’s already a brilliant film) but what he does do is add an extra dimension to it. He brings a volatility and sense of immediate danger that cannot be denied. He has been likened to a Scottish Joe Pesci who turns scary and violent at the slightest provocation. I couldn’t single out one particular scene with Begbie as whenever Carlyle appears onscreen, he’s outstanding in all of them.


I’ve seen the film an abundance of times but no matter how often, I’m always gripped by the presence of Begbie and by that, I think there is no bigger compliment to an actor.


31 Responses to “BLOGATHON”

  1. Great choice and indeed a performance which really stood out. My entry will be up later today.


  2. This actor always seem to do great work. Prime selection, Mark.


    • I’m a big fan of his Michael and met him on a few occasions also. He’s the complete opposite in person as he is in this role. It only makes his performance all the more powerful for me when I know he’s actually such a gent in real life.


  3. Awesome Mark! I knew you’d highlight Mr. Carlyle and rightly so. He’s such a great actor indeed, that’s very cool that you know him in real life and he’s a nice guy, too! Thanks for taking part my friend.


    • I had a massive list Ruth as I’ve got a “memorable performances” page on my site. I considered doing more than one also but thought I’d just give Carlyle the focus. I really hope he starts to get back in the game though, stops doing these below par tv series’ and gets back to what he does best.


      • PrairieGilr Says:

        I hope you don’t mean Once Upon a Time as a “below par TV series.” Robert is superb and extremely memorable in his role as Mr. Gold./Rumple… He can go from sweet to Satan-like all in one episode ;-D


      • Sorry, I don’t mean to cause offence but I just couldn’t get into that series at all. I like the concept if it but it’s delivered kinda cheaply. Although, I do agree, Carlyle is quite memorable in it and the character(s) he plays are great. I think he can elevate anything he’s in. I just wish someone would give him a role that he can really tear into. Thanks for commenting though, it’s always nice to hear different voices.


      • ray brayne Says:

        If you’re turning your daughters on to Bobby Carlyle, do you show them “28 Weeks Later”, “Ravenous”, Trainspotting” or “Once Upon a Time”? My young nephew loves it and my joy is watching his joy!


      • My daughter Willow knows him personally. His son was in the same class as her at school. Willow has also been in Carlyle’s house. I’ve shown her a few things that he’s been in but always stuff of a little more light hearted. She’s too young for all that Psycho/Zombie gear. She just knows him as her friends dad. LOL.


  4. Terrific choice! Carlyle as Begbie is unforgettable, i cannot believe he is in something so cutesy as Once Upon a Time now, he makes me laugh whenever he is on screen, because I can just picture Begbie trashing the hotel room when he realizes the money is gone 🙂


    • Haha, that hotel room freak out is a regular running joke between me and my good lady. We often rant the way Carlyle does to show our frustration at something. LOL. Great scene and one of many from Carlyle. Top quality stuff and I’m glad you appreciate him also Sati.


  5. Very cool pick and very good explanation why you chose him. I was really anxious to see who you had up your sleeve!


    • Cheers Keith. I had lots of people in mind but decided to focus on just one and couldn’t ignore Begbie. It’s one of my all time favourite displays. It wouldn’t have been that obscure but I seriously considered Gary Oldman in True Romance.


  6. Great choice, it’s my favourite performance in the whole film. The scene in the pub where he throws the glass over his shoulder just so he can go start a fight is absolute genius.


  7. Yeah, great choice. A very distinctive role for Robert Carlyle and he really sticks in the memory when I think about Trainspotting.


    • Cheers Dan. Glad to hear we’re in agreement. It’s a fabulous from Carlyle and the only character he’s played that he admits to wanting to revisit. Let’s hope the Irvine Welsh’s second novel on all these characters can reach the screen at some point. They have been discussing it for a while now.


  8. You’re Carlyle biggest supporter so it comes as no surprise to me that you chose to highlight his brilliant performance. Great post, Mark!


    • Thanks Fernando. I had many others in mind and if I had the time I’d have done more than one. I finally decided to stick with Carlyle as I didn’t think many people would. As it goes, it would seem that nobody has mentioned him. I seriously considered Gary Oldman in True Romance; R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket and Paddy Considine in Dead Mans Shoes. Im happy with my choice though. 🙂


  9. Alex Withrow Says:

    I just love Carlyle’s work in this film. Great great choice for the blogathon.

    PS, sorry for leaving so many comments on your blog within the span of a few minutes. I’m just really digging your posts!


    • Comment as much as you like Alex. I completely encourage that. Thanks for taking the time to stop by man.

      Glad you also enjoy Carlyle’s work here. I had so many I wanted to do but decided to focus on just one and one that I thought might get overlooked.


  10. Fabulous choice! I included this character on a list of Memorable Movie Sociopaths, recently, on my blog. I agree that Carlyle is magnificent and under-rated. And Begbie is so fabulously bat crap crazy.

    Thanks for including background information about this actor and performance. I never guessed that he saw this character as being a latent homosexual. It’s fascinating how writers, directors, and actors collaborate on character development.

    I’m glad I discovered your blog, and I’m loving your writing so far. I’m adding you to my feed reader.


    • Thank you very much. Carlyle is one of my favourite actors and this performance, especially, deserves recognition. I’m admittedly a biased with him though and I’ve probably bored many people by constantly repeating that I met him a couple of times.

      Thanks for adding me to your reader, I hope to see you around here regularly. It’d be my pleasure. 🙂


  11. Oops … that last message was from me, but I didn’t leave a correct link — Stephanie at On Page and Screen


    • Nice one! I’ll check that out. I also have a page of memorable performances that I compiled a while ago. I’ve not added to if recently but I will start to update it again soon.


  12. Great selection, Mark! Love this performance, and your post has made me want to go back and revisit Trainspotting once again.


  13. Fantastic pick. Trainspotting is such an awesome film. I just finished doing this, I should have added him.


    • Thank you! I had numerous in mind and could have went with many but decided to focus solely on Carlyle with the belief that nobody would. It turns out that many have appreciated it but none have chosen. I’m glad I stuck with him.


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