Set during the harsh 1915 winter in Norway, King of Devil’s Island follows the lives of the young boys of Bastøy correctional facility and their eventual uprising against their brutal regime leaders. Bastøy was a school developed to direct troubled youth on a straighter path after showing early signs of a life of crime. It was created as a result of the “Law on the Treatment of Neglected Children” from 1896.(1) For those staying at the school, the treatment was oftentimes cruel, with many attempting escape at some point. The film specifically follows the arrival of Erling, a rebellious young man with no intention of following Bastøy’s order, on the island as his presence leads to dramatic change. This analysis will serve to examine the historical accuracy of filming locations, living conditions, and clothing as depicted in the film. Information about the Bastøy prison today is also included.
Located in the Oslo Fjord in Norway, Bastøy correctional facility is depicted in the film as being a dreary place full of many troubled youth. Director Marius Holst’s decision to film the events with subtle darkness is used to symbolize the dreary mood and dark subject matter of the film. The actual location of the island is in the Oslo Fjord, about four kilometers southeast of the town Horton. However, shooting for the film took place in Estonia at Kalvi Manor in Ida-Viru county. This was because the buildings at the prison (at the time of production) were not the same as what was there in 1915, Estonia had buildings that were much more similar to those during the time period. External conditions such as the weather, wooded area, and outside shots of the fjord were filmed in Norway and Estonia, also accurate to the actual prison and surroundings at that time although they were not filmed at the island.(2)
A Visual Account of the Barracks
The film portrayed the overall living conditions of the boys accurately. The young men were shown to sleep together in small, clearly uncomfortable beds resembling cribs in the film. These beds were lined up in rows and in close proximity to each other with limited blankets for protection from the bitter cold at night. These details as seen in King of Devil’s Island can be determined to be accurate from various photographs. A picture from the Norsk Folkmuseum shows the beds the boys slept in, as one can see from a screenshot from the film, the crib structure of the bed is identical to the 1903 photograph.
Clothing Style During WWI
The clothing worn in King of Devil's Island is accurate for the time period. The clothing style depicted in the movie was similar, jeans with long-sleeve shirts. If you compare the clothes to the picture from the Norsk Folkmuseum you can see that the boys are wearing overalls (with the straps down) with a long-sleeve shirt, almost identical to what was presented in the film. In another picture from the Norsk Folkmuseum, the boys at Bastøy are see to be wearing newsboy hats. These hats are, however, not worn by the boys in the film. The only hats that are seen to be worn are by the housefather and other adults in the film. This particular hat was a big part of fashion during that time. It is known as the “newsboys hat” and was commonly worn among lower-class workers all around the western world.(3)
In 1915 the workforce changed due to men going into war, many women therefore took over jobs that men previously had. Many of the different jobs required women to wear uniforms. This change influenced the fashion style at that time period, resulting in a more military look. For example, designs like belts, tunic jackets and epaulets became a part of women’s fashion. Additionally hats for women became more common, especially round hats with flat long edges, often with feathers on top of the hat. The manager’s wife wears this type of hat in the movie, depicted when she leaves with the boat at the end of the movie. (4)
Today Bastoy is a low security prison, however seen from a foreign point of view it might not be seen as a prison at all. The prisoners have a high degree of freedom. They have their own houses and they can walk freely around the island. There is a lot to do on the island prison, which includes libraries, churches, schools, soccer fields and several stores. The reason behind this system is to make the prisoners ready for society, to rehabilitate them instead of punishing them. It’s a system that is based on the premise that people want peaceful and happy neighbors. The system is working very well compared to other countries' prison systems that focus more on punishment. Only twenty percent of offenders released go back to prison in Norway, compared to the US where the recidivism rate is over sixty percent. The main conclusion is that punishment creates more monsters or animals. If you are treated like an animal, you become an animal. The Norwegian prison system is not focused on revenge and punishment but rather rehabilitation for the greater good of society. (5)
King of Devil's Island was not filmed on the Bastøy island, but did film relatively similar landscapes and buildings. Interior of buildings and clothing are very accurate when compared to pictures from the Norsk Folkmuseum. Today's Bastøy is very different from the Bastøy presented in the film. More research and analysis has changed some of the goals of prison and prisoners in Scandinavia.
(1) “Kongen av Bastøy,” Filmweb.no, accessed November 15, 2014, http://www.filmweb.no/film/article910550.ece?facts=t.
(2) “King of Devil’s Island: Filming Locations,” IMDb, accessed April 11, 2017, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1332134/locations.
(3) Carol Leon, "The life of American workers in 1915," Monthly Labor Review - U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, last modified February 2016, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2016/article/pdf/the-life-of-american-workers-in-1915.pdf.
(3) Pitt Meadows, "100 years of fashion," 1914, The End of the Edwardian Era - The City of Pitt Meadows, http://www.pittmeadows.bc.ca/assets/Residential~Services/images/100%20year%20of%20fashion.pdf.
(4) William Lee Adams, "Sentenced to serving the good life in Norway," Time Magazine, last modified July 12, 2010, http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2000920,00.html.
Page written and edited by Anna Buan, Ulrik Sagbakken and Phil Kuball.