THE KEEPER

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Marius H Rosenmuller

Stars: David Kross, Freya Mavor, Jack Henshaw, Gary Lewis, Harry Melling, Michael Socha, Dave Johns.

Trautmann

The second of two soccer themed films to hit local screens this week, The Keeper is a wonderful biopic of Bert Trautmann, a former German soldier and prisoner of war who became an unlikely sporting hero in Britain in the 1950s.  He played over 500 games for Manchester City and played a pivotal role in the club’s 1956 FA Cup victory. This UK/German coproduction is a feelgood, inspiring and engaging drama that will certainly appeal to sports lovers.

German actor David Kross (from The Reader, Warhorse, etc) plays Trautmann, a German paratrooper who is captured by the British towards the end of WWII and set to a prison of war camp in Lancashire to sit out the rest of the war. The camp is presided over by the sadistic Sergeant Smythe (played by Harry Melling, from the Harry Potter series). Trautmann loved his soccer and used his ability in front of goals to score cigarettes from his fellow prisoners.

One day he was spotted by local greengrocer Jack Friar (veteran tv actor John Henshaw, also a regular in the films of Ken Loach) who was delivering some supplies to the camp. Impressed by Trautmann’s ability he arranged for his to gain day release from the camp to play for his lowly ranked St Helen’s team. The team was financially strapped and in danger of relegation. Initially the locals were horrified by the thought of a German playing with them, given that the bitter memories of the bombing raids were still so raw in the minds of the townsfolk. His arrival as part of the team doesn’t go over too well with the local in the immediate post war environment, but his heroics in front of goals soon won over the townsfolk. Bert even began a romance with Friar’s beautiful and headstrong daughter Margaret (Freya Mavor, from Sunshine Over Leith, etc), who came to see him as a gentle, warm and kind man. The pair eventually married.

Soon, Jock Thompson (Gary Lewis, from Billy Elliott, etc), the manager of Manchester City came to scout Trautmann and sign him up. The largely Jewish population of Manchester were outraged by Trautmann’s presence in their team, but again he slowly won them over with his abilities. The support of a local Rabbi also helped him become accepted and overcome the hostility and prejudice.

During the 1956 FA Cup final, Trautmann suffered a severe injury following an on-field clash that left him with a broken neck. However, Trautmann continued to play on, leading the team to victory. Only after the match ended was the extent of his injury revealed. Trautmann played for another eight years and has since been lauded as one of Britain’s great soccer players. When he retired fans tore down the goalposts so that no-one else could stand between his goals. Trautmann also did much to repair Anglo/German relations in the 50s and 60s.

The Keeper has been written by Nicholas J Schofield, and while he takes a few liberties with the story for dramatic purposes he has delivered a wonderfully nuanced drama that deals with some big themes. The film deals with themes of love, loss, grief, prejudice and forgiveness.  

German director Marius H Rosenmuller (Hit And Run, etc) does a superb job with this inspiring tale, although it does feel a little old fashioned in its telling of the story. The film has been beautifully shot by cinematographer Daniel Gottschalk (Mechanic Resurrection, etc), and there is some superbly production design that reeks of authenticity. The climactic FA Cup final match is superbly staged and is a mix of dramatic recreation and black and white archival footage to capture the atmosphere.

The central performances are also fabulous and impressive. Kross delivers a wonderful, complex performance as Trautmann, who is consumed by guilt and haunted by an ugly incident that happened during the war. Mavor brings a feisty quality to her performance as Margaret, while Henshaw provides some comic relief to the material.

I much preferred The Keeper to the documentary on Diego Maradona, which was overly long and lacked precious insight.

★★★★

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