County Lines – a vivid and urgent exploration of social exclusion, coercion and control

County Lines is released nationwide on 4th December in cinemas and on-demand via BFI Player and Curzon Home Cinema.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

County Lines is a term used to describe gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs into one or more importing areas [within the UK], using dedicated mobile phone lines or another form of “deal line”. They are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to move [and store] the drugs and money, and they will often use coercion, intimidation, violence (including sexual violence) and weapons. – The National Crime Agency

The best drama comes from a deep understanding of the issues portrayed, and this is something debut director Henry Blake fully understands as he brings his years of youth work experience to the screen. Blake’s remarkable, powerful and profoundly unsettling exploration of young people drawn into drug trafficking is both vivid, urgent and timely. Tyler (Conrad Khan) has never quite fit in, his school life a barrage of taunts and bullying. Meanwhile, at home, his mum, Toni (Ashley Madekwe), is forced to work nights as a cleaner just to put food on the table, leaving Tyler to care for his younger sister.

Between school and home, Tyler’s life is caught in a trap of caring responsibilities, poverty and a growing need for independence and security. The enigmatic Simon (Harris Dickinson) understands Tyler’s longing for the latter. Simon appears to be a new friend, a surrogate older brother who understands Tyler’s anger and provides protection from harm. And it’s not long before Simon offers Tyler a way to make ‘easy’ money. Tyler quickly accepts before learning that no money comes easily, and dirty money comes with many deadly strings attached.


Blake’s film is rooted in the kitchen sink realism of Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Tony Richardson, as he wraps Tyler’s journey in an inescapable loop of poverty and crime. Here Conrad Khan is a revelation as Tyler, his performance rich in the anger, despair and need for belonging every teen faces while reflecting the painful truth of poverty and segregation in modern-day Britain through a single look or gesture. Here Blake demonstrates just how short and sharp the descent into a darker world can be for vulnerable young people.


Anyone who has ever worked with young people who sit on the fringes of society will recognise the story Blake brings to the screen and the inner-city battle for survival that haunts so many families. Here the need for older brothers and sisters to step up and become carers is essential in holding off a family’s descent into homelessness. At the same time, schools struggle to keep young people actively involved while youth workers find their skills cut out of state services in favour of a more prescribed social service response. As a result, thousands of young people fall through the net of social support yearly, turning to far more dangerous role models.

As County Lines comes to a close, there are no simple answers to the gaps in social and educational support that often lead to coercion and crime. Here the journey we take with Tyler is a mere snapshot of a much larger and more complex problem. But in generating a series of meaningful discussions, County Lines becomes a talking point for young people, parents and professionals, and it is here that Blake’s film is at its most powerful.

Director: Henry Blake

Cast: Conrad Khan, Harris DickinsonAshley MadekweMarcus Rutherford, Carlyss Peer


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