Movie Review – King of Devil’s Island (2010)

The King of Devil’s Island (Kongen av Bastøy), 2010.

Directed by Marius Holst.
Starring Stellan Skarsgård, Benjamin Helstad, Kristoffer Joner and Trond Nilssen.


Based on a true story, a brutal correctional facility has the tides turned against it when a new inmate arrives and defies their methods.

I’m not one for watching foreign subtitled films – not because I dislike them but more because I’ve just never tried them – so when the opportunity came up to review The King Of Devil’s Island starring Stellan Skarsgard, an actor whose work I admire, I wanted to take up the task. And as a result, I’ll definitely be looking at more foreign films in the future.

The film tells the true story of an uprising that occurred on the Norwegian island of Bastoy in 1915. Bastoy Island was a home for “maladjusted” young boys, aiming to mould them in to good Catholics that can function well in society. In reality the facility is a brutal and nefarious place, with young children beaten and abused, all in the name of bettering them.

The story begins by introducing us to two new inmates; Erling and Ivar. Or C19 and C5 respectively as they will come to be known, numbers assigned to them by the Governor. Their pasts and futures irrelevant, their names of little meaning, they are numbers that must fall in line and obey orders. It is the arrival of these two young men that brings change with it to the island. Erling/C19 immediately fights back against the system, brazen and bold, defying his superiors and assessing the laying of the land, already working on an escape in his mind. Ivar however is quite the opposite -quiet and weak, barely coping to keep his head above water.

The film deals with Erling and the totalitarian methods deployed on him and his new brethren. He clashes with C1; Olav, the head of the boys in a position of responsibility bestowed upon him by the Governor for his obedience, which will soon result in his acquittal. Morals collide between the two as the question is raised; what would you sacrifice for your freedom?

The Governor himself is played by Stellan Skarsgard, who as usual puts in a wonderful performance. Quiet, yet emotive, his methods are unscrupulous and he is unwilling to sacrifice his power to do what is right when the knowledge of heinous acts by his staff come to light. Acts which will disgust however are only implied and not actually seen, a fact which the film must be commended for being able to portray them so respectfully and powerfully.

Bastoy Island is a bleak place and the plight of the boys can really be felt through the terrific cinematography, filled with cold blues and greys the fierce winter transcends the screen and sends a shiver through your body as the boys are put through arduous labours. Things soon change as the aforementioned cover up leads the boys to come together and turn against their captures, with Erling leading an uprising setting off a wonderful climax to the film that had been building since the very first scene.

A scene tells the story of a whale that despite being harpooned and scarred from battles past, carries on in defiance trying to obtain his freedom. A story mirrored in young Erling in his time at Bastoy and the final escape he attempts from the excessive and controversial response to the uprising from the Norwegian Government.

The King of Devil’s Island is a solid film with wonderful performances from its older more experienced cast to its younger members which helps in the films attempt to portray engaging characters in a powerful story of brotherhood, freedom and morality.

The film opens on Friday July 29th and I highly recommend it.

Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★

Martin Deer

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