9th October 2019 8.45pm at BFI Southbank (NFT)
13th October 2019 8.30pm at Vue West End
Debutant Henry Blake directs this drama about a teenager caught up in county lines drug trafficking – which sees children used as mules. Blake had previously worked on short films, and this release is based on its short namesake, which premiered in 2017. Blake’s feature is a contemporary tragedy: today the exploitative county lines industry is worth about £500m in the UK. It is this gritty reality which gives this fictional drama its raw power.
County Lines follows a path trodden by thousands of kids in the UK. In this instance, we are introduced to Tyler, a shy 14 year-old with behavioural issues. Before falling prey to the drug trade, Tyler is a victim of bullying, constantly getting into scuffles which hamper his education.
On one occasion his abusers are stopped by a stranger. It appears to be an innocuous helping hand, but this good Samaritan swiftly grooms Tyler into a criminal underworld with an iron grip. Lured into the county line business, Tyler falls in deep, enabled by his struggling mother Toni (Ashley Madekwe), who prefers to turn a blind eye as long as the money flows.
Blake elicits a moving performance from Conrad Khan, who lets us in on Tyler’s emotion without saying much at all. Khan portrays rage, guilt and fear in the space of a few seconds, all without a line. Madekwe is on a par with Khan, playing the fearful, naive Toni brilliantly. We see the genuine love she has for her family play off against her costly selfishness throughout the film. The film often feels like it’s pitting our sympathies against our blame for the central characters.
The subject matter doesn’t make this especially happy viewing, and nor should it be. Blake has worked a balance between heavy social realism and entertaining drama. This is an important film that exposes a shocking reality lived by far too many kids.
County Lines does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for County Lines here: