It’s unfair to use words such as tough and gritty; powerful and relevant or even urgent don’t seem to do the trick either, although of course they all apply to County Lines, which tells of 14-year-old Tyler who is recruited by a local dealer (Harris Dickinson) to run drugs out of north London and into more rural areas.
It’s heartbreaking for his mum Toni (Ashley Madekwe, excellent) and for us to watch. The scene where Tyler (intriguing performance from Conrad Khan) turns on his mother is shocking, made me sick with fear. Some of this is shot where I take my kids to play football, so, you know, it’s a fragile thing this city life.
Henry Blake whose debut film this is, tells the story in spurts because, from his experience in Pupil Referral Units etc, I guess he knows how suddenly it can all happen. I kept thinking i’d hit the ‘skip chapter’ button, and there are some scenes that are hard to watch, but only only in a good way, because of their seeming authenticity and grubbiness. British film has a firm tradition of this sort of thing, from Scum to I Daniel Blake, and we love those films, without wishing to lump them all together, or tar them with a grim brush. This one’s got the heart it needs to get us through it, a significant work of considerable emotional and social power, and one of the most notable British films of the year.
In cinemas and on BFI Player