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Film Review: County Lines (2020)

County Lines (2020) - credit: BFI

IMDB Link: County Lines (2019)
Director: Henry Blake
Writer: Henry Blake
Stars: Conrad Khan, Ashley Madekwe, Harris Dickinson

Synopsis: Inspired by true events, County Lines is a powerful and moving ‘coming-of-age’ film about a 14-year-old boy who is groomed into a county lines criminal network.

I will be honest, I was unfamiliar with the term ‘county lines’ until this film, and I commend Henry Blake for taking on a subject matter like this. With the statistic provided at the end of the film, it is heartbreaking to see how many children are groomed into joining the drug business, as well as the impact that clearly has on their mental health and family. This film does well in handling that subject matter and showing the implications it can have.

Conrad Khan plays the lead, Tyler, and does a fantastic job in the role. This could have easily been a performance where Khan could go overboard and made the film feel over-dramatic, but he has restraint and gives a more nuanced performance than I was expecting. This is the same from Ashley Madekwe, who plays the mother in the film. They have to hold the narrative and they do it incredibly well.

This is a film in which the story continually builds up, with more and more happening with Tyler. Yet, this never feels forced or purely for exposition. The build-up is done naturally and creates real impact when we get to the second half of the film. The story feels so real, and that is what makes the film hard to watch. The set-up shows the initials struggles that the family has to go through, and it becomes hard to see their situation become worse because of what Tyler goes through with the county lines.

What I appreciate about this film is that they highlight the impact school has on children and the decisions that they make. Sadly, not all schools do the right thing and actually help out those who need it. There are a few people who are genuinely there for their students, as one person is with Tyler, but there are people who get away with bullying and causing fights with just getting as little punishment as possible, and that is without knowing the people who are raising their children and are just doing their best.

There are scenes here that don’t make as big of an impact as they should, primarily in the first half of the film. It is hard to know in the beginning how we should feel about the mother, as she does come off as selfish and a bad mother to begin, rather than someone who is struggling but trying to provide the best for Tyler and his little sister. It is hard to care about her struggles, in comparison to seeing how her decisions do impact Tyler and his way of living.

This is a strong film from Henry Blake, and the type of honest filmmaking I love to champion on this site. Whilst it may take some time to get going and to fully connect with the characters, their struggles are real and this has a clear message behind it. This informed me about the dangers of the county lines and the fact that many kids are on the streets putting their lives at risk, and that is not okay. I hope this film does bring awareness to many more people.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

County Lines is out in UK cinemas from December 4th.

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