Based on a chilling true story, King of Devil’s Island is set in 1915 Norway on Bastøy – an island about 75km south of Oslo near Horten. At the time, Bastøy was a juvenile detention facility for boys – and became the setting of one of only two events in the history of Norway where the Norwegian Army fired on Norwegians.
As forewarning, please understand that this film is not “feel good”, it is not “uplifting”, it is bleak and it is grim and in places, it is shocking. Filmed in winter in bleak greys and blues, the film goes through the events that led up to the infamous uprising.
We start the story with two new prisoners arriving on the island – a glowering 17 year old named Erling (played by Benjamin Helstad), who was rumoured to have murdered someone; and a frightened teenager named Ivar (played by Magnus Langlete). Upon arrival, the two boys are stripped naked and paraded before the other prisoners, before going to their quarters. These two boys are pivotal to the story as it unfolds, and to the rebellion itself.
The ‘curriculum’ at Bastøy involves hard labour during the day and constant harassment from the bosses during the night – all overseen by a determined Governor (played by Stellan Skarsgård) who believes that, with the right discipline, he can create “honourable, noble, useful, Christian boys” – however a man who seems wilfully detached from the actions of employees, who push the limits of their roles far into brutality and physical & sexual abuse.
With tensions rising ever higher, Bastøy was becoming a pressure-cooker and as with any high-pressure situation, the tension had to break eventually – and inevitably explosively.
This film was confronting and bleak – a glimpse into history as faithfully retold as possible, and in as harsh terms as would have been endured in the initial incident. While this is a prison drama, don’t be misled into thinking it’s “just another…” because you’d be sorely mistaken. The cast, crew and storyline are impeccable and although not really a “watch every week” kind of movie, this writer does think it deserves a watch at least once every couple of years.
Streaming now on Stan.