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King of Devil's Island (2010)

Kongen av Bastøy

Rating: 9/10

Running Time: 120 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: Not Yet Rated

Ever seen a movie about a juvenile detention centre that paints it in a good light? No? Well, here’s King of Devil’s Island – a film that somehow does the dirty much better than the rest.

This based-on-a-true-story movie is set in 1915 on Devil’s Island (Bostøy), home to a centre for unruly boys overseen by a strict Governer (Skarsgård). Most of the action centres around a new arrival, Erling (Helstad), who immediately begins to shake things up by being a pain to the wardens with his desire to escape. At the same time a weaker teenager Olav (Nilssen) arrives on the island and is subjected to a cycle of abuse from one of the wardens (Joner), a tragic tale that only serves to incite the other inmates into a one-island revolution.

Marius Holst’s terrific movie gives us a fascinating, multi-stranded story that’s intriguing throughout and will leave you hanging on to the end as no part ever lags or leaves you disappointed. This is not just an average story of escape but one that covers child abuse, life in a harsh regime, friendship, redemption, revolution and a bit of escaping too, all in an authentically depressing setting. King of Devil’s Island looks great, feels like an event and is beautifully acted, especially by Skarsgård and Helstad, Nilssen and Langlette, the three main young protagonists.

The clever and measured storytelling and sparse but well-used dialogue keep the interaction between the main characters believable and the atmosphere constantly tense. The moral lines are blurred and the subtle characterisation is really impressive as Holst stears away from cliches. Governer Bestyreren is not completely evil as you have the feeling that he has the boys interests at heart but his weakness of character stops him from acting when he’s obviously on the wrong side. We also never learn whether Erling did commit murder that he is accused of but on the island in this situation it doesn’t really seem to matter.

It's Got: Quality acting and characterisation, a fascinating story, an authentically portrayed setting

It Needs: To be seen up there with The Shawshank Redemption


A fantastic tale of a group of juvenile prisoners driven to revolution by an unfair, abusive system. Brutally realistic and well-acted with beautifully stark cinematography. Possibly even a match for The Shawshank Redemption.