Reel Norden : Nordic Film & History

The King of Devil's Island -- Chronology & Events

King of Devil’s Island is based on a true story, but alterations were made in order to heighten the experience of the viewer. Although changes were made, the film accurately depicts the conditions of the Bastøy Boys’ Home in the early twentieth century. This analysis will examine the purpose of reformatory schools, the conditions at the Bastøy Boys' Home, and the rebellion that took place in 1915.

Reformatory Schools and the Child Welfare Council Act

Due to urbanization and the increased number of children living in urban areas during the nineteenth century, it was believed that criminality and poverty were spreading amongst the children. Reformatory schools were created with the intent of providing social control of juvenile offenders. These institutions were thought to be more caring and nurturing than the alternative of the adult prison system later in life, and more fit for children to develop into good citizens. The reformatory system had a plan in place that would improve the children that were not serious law-breakers; thus creating a preventative effect for those children at risk of becoming criminals.​ These reformatories were meant to be an extension of the schooling system, but also an alternative to the prison system.(1)

The Child Welfare Council Act of 1896 was put in place to regulate the reformatory system. This act defined the term ‘neglected child’ as a child who was subjected to negligence as a result of their parents or foster parents. This term did not only extend to the children that were deprived of basic opportunities, but also to delinquent children that showed signs of deprivation of morals or neglect. The act established that each municipality or commune had to have at least one of these councils. Instead of being placed under the jurisdiction of the criminal courts, the law-breaking children were placed under the guardianship of a Child Welfare Council, and were punished or educated in a manner that seemed to fit the circumstance and the interest of the involved community.(2) As seen in the film, many of the children placed in the Bastøy Boys’ home had troubled backgrounds. Erling (C-19) was a rumored murderer and Olav (C-1) had stolen money from the offering basket at church. The extremities of their circumstances varied, but it also depended on how they behaved once in the boys’ home.

By the year 1896, reform schools already existed in Norway, but the Child Welfare Council Act brought with it the establishment of many more of these institutions. It was in 1896 that the Bastøy Boys’ Home was first instituted.(3)

Bastøy Boys’ Home

The Bastøy Boys’ Home was located on an island in the Oslo fjord. Bastøy boys’ home was founded in 1896 but did not officially open until 1900, The boys' home was used to provide troubled young boys with a safe boarding school, isolated from the general population from 1900 - 1953. The goal of the institution was to offer a Christian upbringing through teaching guidance, hard work, and discipline to these troubled children.(4) 

During the early years, there were many rumors going around Norway about the Bastøy Boys’ Home. Some of these rumors stemmed from the publication of Bjørn Evje’s book Under Loven [By Law ] in 1907. Throughout the book Evje shows the institution in a "raw and undisguised manner" which included how the how the institution was run and what conditions were like there. After the book was published, an investigation was done to see if his claims about the conditions and punishment methods were true. The committee surveyed the circumstances of the school, and this resulted in better conditions, but there still remained harsh and unnecessary forms of punishment.(5) The film depicts that the Bastøy Boys’ Home went under investigation by a committee to make sure that things were running smoothly within the school. Ultimately, these schools were masked as being safe havens for the children but in reality they were juvenile correction centers.


The government first became involved at the institution because of what Evje's book had related about the treatment of the boys. Then in 1915 the government became involved again because of a rebellion that was started on the Island. On May 21, 1915 a group of boys started a rebellion by trying to escape the island. During the rebellion the barn was set on fire and the boys took over the island. Once the government was informed of the rebellion they took many measures to make sure that none of the boys would escape. They sent in 150 soldiers on foot as well as torpedo boats, an armored ship, and a submarine in the water.(6)

The occurrence of a rebellion in the film was historically accurate, but the intricacies of the personalized tale of Erling is mostly fictionalized. In the film, the rebellion was catalyzed by the knowledge of a child-molester being allowed to work at Bastøy, Husfar Bråthen. However, this was not the true cause of the rebellion. In real life, the uprising began due to a culmination of terrible conditions that caused some of the boys to attempt escaping. When this failed, they led a rebellion against the school. In the film the rebellion took place during the winter. This was not accurately depicted because the real rebellion happened on May 21, 1915.(7) The artistic choice of including the personalized story of Erling was made to enhance the viewer's experience and provide the audience with an emotional connection to the characters in the film.

(1) Harald Thuen, "Education or punishment? Reformatory Schools in Norway, 1840‐1950," History of Education 20, no. 1 (March 01, 1991): 51-52, doi:10.1080/0046760910200106. ​
(2) C. Terence Pihlblad, "The Juvenile Offender in Norway," Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science 46, no. 4 (1956): 500, doi:10.2307/1139712.
(3) Anthony F. Rotatori et al., Special Education International Perspectives: Practices Across the Globe (Bingley, England: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2014), 186.
(4) “Bad Boy? Bastøy Boys Home,” Norsk Folkemuseum, Oslo, accessed November 14, 2014,
(5) "Bad Boy?" Norsk Folkemuseum.
(6) "Bad Boy?" Norsk Folkemuseum.
(7) "Bad Boy?" Norsk Folkemuseum.

Written and edited by Rachel Olson, Grete Hamnes, Jacob Aberle and Tim Carlson.

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