This big budget picture that has set box-office records in its homeland of Norway has to be one of the best films I have seen all year. Marius Holst has created a beautifully crafted prison drama – not normally my favourite of genres – with a skill that makes King of Devil’s Island universally accessible to all.
Based on a true story, the film is set in Norway 1915 at Bastøy prison – an island off the Norwegian coast where maladjusted youths are sent to be corrected. John Stellan Skarsgård, who’ll you remember from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, heads up Bastøy as the Governor in command. The story follows the arrival to the island of Erling (Benjamin Helstad), or C-19 as he is referred to by the guards. From the look in Erling’s eyes it’s immediately clear that this is not going to be an easy journey for him or anyone on the island. He soon befriends Olav (Trond Nilssen) another inmate who leads the C block dorm. This friendship sees a banding together of all the youth held at Bastøy and when tragedy strikes, they rise-up together to overthrow the authority.
Skarsgard’s performance has great depth and shows his character’s conflict over the happenings of Bastøy – even on a personal level with his wife. Both Helstad and Nilssen along with the rest of the youthful, yet incredible cast, bring to life this well told true story. Although the film was filmed in Estonia rather than Norway, Holst has managed to capture the snow and sea landscapes with a melancholic beauty.
King of Devil’s Island – a well-built and suspenseful film told with perfect pace, overall a thoroughly enjoyable watch.