of Devil’s Island (Kongen av Bastøy)
Directed by Marius Holst
3rd August - 9th August 2012
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
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.