‘County Lines’ review: an honest telling of the harsh world that feeds our addictions

This film about the UK drug trade doesn’t water anything down

Watching a family struggle to escape poverty is hard enough, but watching County Lines you get a raw account of just how desperate some are forced into being just to keep a roof over their heads. Inspired by the director Henry Blake’s own experiences as a youth worker, this film is a replica of the extremities of getting into the dangerous life as a drug mule in the UK.

Opening with a scene of someone more interested in their phone than their counselling session, you assume that this is the story of a reforming drug dealer, dodging his past demons on his way to rehabilitation. However, County Lines is nothing of the sort. Instead we meet Tyler — a fourteen year old boy whose seemingly given up football and is a nobody to his peers.

Starting off as an underachieving kid in a referral unit, we find out that Tyler is the only man in his household, helping out his mother any time he can raise him and his little sister. Getting into fights and zoning out at school, Tyler just needed a little guidance, but unfortunately, he got it in the wrong place.

Conrad Khan as Tyler in ‘County Lines’. Credit: Press/BFI

Cooped up in an office with a few teachers, you see Tyler switch off around his superiors and after numerous attempts to break through to him, he doesn’t seem to open up. The only time he did attempt to talk to his teachers, the fire alarm went off. Undermined and unheard, Tyler is a vulnerable child who’s shut out by the world. And with Simon — a once groomed gang leader grooming more kids into his line of work — being the only one who looks like they care, Tyler runs into the arms of danger unbeknownst to him.

County Lines doesn’t water anything down. From watching Tyler shove drugs where the sun don’t shine, to the gruesome treatment of Izzy, an addict that assists Simon’s dealers outside of London, you can see from start to finish the dangers of the lucrative money he was providing his struggling single mother who — early on in the film — loses her job.

Being taken advantage of, you witness Tyler’s drastic change from an introverted family man to an aggressive kid always on the offence, highlighting the change in psyche that seems imperative with this risky business. Assaulting his mother and mistreating customers and the locals when he goes to the country, this once timid fourteen year old wasn’t such no more, leading to his very demise.

Caught slipping dealing “brown and white” near a beach, Tyler ends up in a ditch after a sneak attack done by rivals. Having acid thrown in his face, and stabbed in his butt by Clay Milner Russell’s character [Bobby Beale, EastEnders], County Lines is a definite deterrent for anyone who thinks life running drugs is a glamorous one due to the lucrative payout. Reminding the viewer how this lifestyle is almost a death wish, no wonder reforming member today struggle with the paranoia and PTSD of constantly looking out for their rivals and (potentially) the police. And at 14, it’s sure to leave a plethora of trauma behind. 

An honest telling of the harsh world that feeds our addictions, County Lines is an important film to teach you about the raw reality of kids involved in drugs to reply to those who think it’s so easy to get out. Even when your life’s at stake, if it brings a better quality of living, you can see just how far anyone could go when vulnerable. Such a violent depiction of this lifestyle though, it’s best to watch this film through your fingers.


  • Director: Henry Blake
  • Starring: Harris Dickinson, Ashley Madekwe, Marcus Rutherford
  • Release date: December 4

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