Starring: Conrad Khan, Ashley Madekwe, Harris Dickinson, Marcus Rutherford, Tabitha Milne-Price
Based on his experiences as a youth worker, writer-director Blake’s impressive debut is a taut, and well-played coming-of-age drama with striking visuals.
Khan is Tyler, a fourteen-year-old living with his overburdened single mum (Madekwe) and younger sister Aliyah (Milne-Price) on an East London council estate. He has a warm protective relationship with this sister, but outside the family home he has problems and refuses to take part in the Pupil Referral Unit classes he is required to attend, despite the efforts of his well-meaning supervisor. One night he is defended from some local bullies by the charismatic, self-professed ‘entrepreneur’ Simon (Dickinson). After a gift of some trainers, Tyler starts to run errands for Simon. Then, when Tyler’s mum loses her job, plunging the family into poverty, he becomes a drug mule, transporting narcotics across the titular county lines from the city to rural and coastal areas. On his first job, in an unnerving scene more redolent of a horror movie than social realism, Tyler delivers drugs to a nightmarishly squalid hovel on the desolate coast. The picture skips to six months ahead where Tyler has become a more hardened player.
This is a dour and sombre tale, but Khan, with minimal dialogue, manages to deliver a compellingly contained performance. Blake’s script is empathetic and briskly paced, while Norwegian Sverre Sørdal’s photography provides some arresting images, from bleak and stark coastal vistas to the cocoon-like clutter of the family home, even finding terrible beauty in images of abandoned syringes in dirty bathtubs.
County Lines is playing at selected cinemas and available to stream now.
Follow David on @DWill_Crackfilm