The Keeper is a biopic of the late German football player Bert Trautmann, one of Manchester City’s greatest goalkeepers. He came to St Helens Town as a prisoner-of-war, following his service as a paratrooper for the Luftwaffe in the Second World War, when the British armed forces captured him.
It’s one hell of a story that isn’t done justice for how it expects us to forgive the man simply because he’s great at football. The real Bert Trautmann was remarkable, recognised by governments in both England and Germany for his work in Anglo-German rapprochement. Unless this old knowledge pre-exists in one’s mind, there’s not much the writer does for the fictionalised Bert (performed low-key by The Reader actor David Kross) to warrant our sympathies, simply chalking up his choice to become a Nazi paratrooper as not really having a choice at all. The hard-hearted Sergeant Smythe, who heads the POW camp, is a point of conflict existing only to demonise the “innocent” Nazis. The sole reason he’s unlikable is because actor Harry Melling gets to resume the tyrannical spirit of Dudley Dursley.
Lancashire’s locals, including impending lover Margaret (Freya Mavor), are understandably upset when discovering Trautmann began as a volunteer for the Wehrmacht, and was even awarded the Iron Cross, but all seems to be forgiven because he keeps clean sheets. The only positive interpretation to make is the camaraderie in football transcends political ideology, which is a nice sentiment shared, if a little tired.
Director Marcus H Rosenmüller’s storytelling is as old-fashioned as the period his film takes place in, using a familiar template of the inspirational sports narrative. The checklist includes: a coach (played by John Henshaw, whose rib-tickling Northernness is a highlight) with unwavering belief in his star, the chance of a lifetime when Man City manager Jock Thomson (Gary Lewis) attends on a scouting visit, and the geography of the playing field entirely measured by the significant other’s reaction shots.
The most fascinating The Keeper gets is in the last 30 minutes when traumatic wartime flashbacks invade the life the goalkeeper has built for himself with a stable career, a loving family and the entire community behind him. This final quarter is an all-too-brief preview of a better film – we can only wish at how much more powerful and effective the story of redemption and forgiveness would have been if it was entirely structured this way.
The Keeper is released nationwide on 5th April 2019.
Watch the trailer for The Keeper here: