King of Devil’s Island (Kongen av Bastøy)

Directed by Marius Holst
FACT Picturehouse
3rd August - 9th August 2012

Reviewed by Redskye

There is a dark ominous feel to the film from the start, aided by the film’s colour palette of winter greys and dark blues - the darkly lit indoor scenes add further to the atmosphere and the cinematography is first-ratte. There is also a definite Victorian feel to the film set in Norway during the winter of 1915.

Don’t expect to be glibly entertained in the Hollywood manner as there’s a strong moral story here, based in part on the true story of penal brutality at a young offender’s institute on the island of Bastøy in Oslofjord meted out to boys aged 11-18. There are recognisable elements from the films Papillion and Scum. However what sets this film aside from those is the triumph of human spirit over the degrading penal regime and what the central character Erling (named C19 at the island) inspires in his fellow inmates unlike the aforementioned films.

Erling arrives with a rumour that he’s killed someone, and trys to escape from the moment he arrives. But he is captured after escaping in a small boat and returned to the island. There are numerous examples of abuse that he and other inmates are subjected to.

Erling befriends Olav, who is the head boy in his dormitory. He later persaudes him to report Bråthen, the second in command at Bastøy, to the governor Håkon for his sexual abuse of quiet boy Ivar. After the tragic suicide of Ivar, which is covered up by Håkon, resentment starts to build amongst the boys.Thee uprising is ultimately sparked by the return of Bråthen, who had previously been seen leaving the island. Erling is the inspiration that encourages the boys, including Olav, to rise up against the Bastøy regime.

A thought provoking scene is when the enraged boys string up despised housefather Bråthen. Erling drags Bråthen to safety, lying battered and bruised on the floor. Bråthen says to Erling “C19 are you going to kill me now”. The staff are chased off the island and the army are sent in to put down the uprising, as happened in the real incident back in 1915.

Stellan Skarsgård, who plays Håkon the governor, is better known for his part as Bootstrap Bill Turner in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Skarsgård invested some of his money in the film and chose to cast unknown teenagers, who hadn’t previously acted, in various parts. They all came from difficult backgrounds, and he claims this is what adds to the reality of their character portrayals in the film.

King of Devil’s Island is a film that sees abused and emotionally damaged boys rise up against a crushing penal system. You are left to reflect upon the continual cycle of brutality inherent within most prison systems, especially youth detention centres, and how it impacts upon all those touched by it.

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