GFF20 Review: County Lines

The ruthless destructive impact and collateral damage caused by the drug trade takes forefront in County Lines – a stirring social drama from writer-director Henry Blake. Examining the harsh realities of urban life in austerity-hit Britain, County Lines is true-life inspired tale that examines the effects of the illegal drug industry and the damaging ripple effect this brings to families and communities.

Following the story of fourteen year old Tyler (newcomer Conrad Kahn), County Lines sees the youngster disengaged by his schooling and the challenges of supporting his younger sister, whilst his mother (Ashley Madekwe) works long nights. He soon falls under the influence of local ‘entrepreneur’ Simon (Harris Dickinson), who grooms him into a role as a drugs courier sending him across county lines smuggling illegal substances, resulting in him becoming a throwaway piece of collateral damage from the drug trade.

Blake carefully paints a picture of the damaging social background that leads Tyler into his perilous role: unable to access the support given at school (triggered by a violent incident involving a classmate), supporting his younger sister (essentially fulfilling the role of a parent), and frustrated with a mother struggling to make ends meet. It is no surprise that the impressionable young teen – although forced into a lifestyle requiring an early level of maturity – becomes susceptible to the confident Simon, living a life of relative excess (certainly to a fourteen year old boy – copious amounts of chicken, nice trainers and a flash car) that Tyler finds alluring.

The filmmaker captures a sharp, jarring tension as the narrative proceeds with Tyler stepping into a world that he is truly unprepared for.  Placing a fourteen year old in settings filled with substance abuse, desperate addiction, and brutal violence – makes for an uncomfortable watch, yet one that confronts a sad reality reflecting the true dangers faced by those pushed into such positions of desperation to survive. The subsequent shift in behaviour faced by Tyler as he begins to mirror the aggression and brutality he witnesses as a drug mule, within his own domestic life is masterfully conveyed by Kahn – who brings a tremendous conviction to the role.

The ripple effects that Tyler’s newfound role has on his family are devastatingly portrayed by the fantastic Ashley Madekwe. The actress explores the hardships faced by a parent struggling in life through her attempts to hold down a job and raise children as a single mother – with the additional burden of not knowing where her son is and the dangerous environments he is being exposed to. Dickinson is equally impressive as the cold drug dealer, unfazed by the perpetuating damage caused by his industry on families – truly hammering home the idea of Tyler as collateral damage.

With rare use of music and a stark naturalistic visual style capturing the urban cityscapes, County Lines is a realistic, hard-hitting drama that explores challenging themes with a stirring sense of conviction and quiet gravitas.

For more details about the Glasgow Film Festival and County Lines, click here.

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