Written and directed by Henry Blake, a 14-year-old boy is groomed into a lethal nation-wide drug-selling enterprise which exploits vulnerable children and traffics them across Britain. Starring: Conrad Khan, Harris Dickinson, Ashley Madekwe, Marcus Rutherford, Johanna Stanton, Chizzy Akudolu, Ebenezer Gyau and Anthony Adjekum.
Figures from last year showed that over 1,100 children had been trafficked into the UK’s drug trade, enslaved by dealers and County Lines takes on the challenge of bringing this important issue to the screen. The style which Blake takes on for this film does sincere justice to the poignancy and importance of this subject, it remains utterly grounded and understated throughout, managing to bring through the danger, violence and risks without taking away from how firmly it’s rooted in reality. It’s a factor that’s pushed further by the cinematography (by Sverre Sørdal), it doesn’t shy away from colour in this rather dark story, but it also doesn’t try to push it down a road of pure grit and a violent atmosphere, it feels as though its very self-aware about the youth of its story.
The writing similarly moves in a way that doesn’t pause to try and lean on the dramatics, it moves swiftly and purposefully, it begins as quiet and unassuming but then slowly ramps up its intensity to drive home the serious nature of its story. The progression is especially smooth, perhaps even a little too much, there’s a fluidity to its story but some viewers may need it to linger slightly longer just to let the changes land in a more impactful manner. In the same way, it’s very understated and while it does get the danger and risk factors across, it feels as though there’s something missing that could have pushed it further, to create a stronger emotional connection. However, the writing certainly does a superb job of exploring the vulnerability of youth and how quickly attitudes can change with a taste of power and money. As well as accurately taking on how expendable they are, as the film refers to it, these young people are acceptable losses to criminal enterprises and it’s a harrowing truth.
Conrad Khan knocks it out of the park with his first lead role in a feature, Tyler is a complex character and Khan manages to bring that to life superbly. His character goes through a very messy transformation, throwing his reactions and emotions all over the map but Khan manages to tackle all of that with sincerity. He does shoulder most of the screen time but he’s also very well supported, particularly by Ashley Madekwe as his mother Toni, there’s a physicality to the emotion that she brings, with the story slowly shattering her character. As well as a great turn from Tabitha Milne-Price as Tyler’s sister, she brings a strong personality to her character and adds a nice balance with Tyler’s aggression, as well as showing how she’s influenced by the changes in his attitude and behaviour.
County Lines is a poignant take on a harrowing issue and one that many may not be aware of, it creates the perfect example to give an understanding of how vulnerable youths are so easily ensnared by drug dealers. It impressively keeps itself grounded firmly in reality to do sincere justice to its story but at times it feels like it needs to slow down a little to let the emotion really land.