The Keeper

 

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The true story of a German prisoner of war who found fame as a goalkeeper for Manchester City.

 
Keeper, The

David Kross

  

Although the 1950s was the decade in which British films regularly embraced tales of our wartime exploits, 1957 was the year that saw the release of The One That Got Away. It was yet another movie centred on escape attempts by a prisoner of war, but surprisingly the hero of the film was German, a real-life fighter pilot named Franz von Werra played by the attractive German actor Hardy Kruger. That film comes to mind when watching The Keeper because this film too has a real-life German, Bert Trautmann, as its hero and once again it is a role played in what is this time a German-British co-production by an appealing young German actor. Here it is David Kross known to us from 2008's The Reader.

 

Trautmann would become a notable football player famed for his achievements as a goalkeeper for Manchester City, but he had arrived in this country as a prisoner of war in 1944 and had been interned in Lancashire. Consequently the first half of The Keeper, which also shows how Trautmann came to marry Margaret (Freya Mavor) the daughter of an English football coach (John Henshaw), is much concerned    with the hostility that arose over the appointment of a German to play for Manchester City in 1949. To make matters worse, it emerged that Trautmann's actions on the battlefield had won him medals including an Iron Cross and, although he would eventually be awarded an OBE for his work for Anglo-German relations, there is still speculation regarding Trautmann's own sense of guilt (was it shame for his country's actions or remorse over what he had done himself as a Nazi?).

 

On one level, The Keeper functions as a sports movie, but quite properly its main concerns are with the tensions that arose from Trautmann rejecting repatriation for a career as a footballer in this country and with the conflict within his own conscience. To the film's credit it does not gloss over Trautmann's sense of guilt but it does seek to keep this in play in the film's second half by blending a personal post-war tragedy with a flashback to a death in the war and the incident chosen for that is one that seems inadequate as an illustration of the memories that tormented him. Similarly, it is difficult to credit a late scene in which the sergeant (Harry Melling) who had been extreme in his hostility to the POWs in the camp suddenly pops up again at a key moment and adopts a totally different tone. These late scenes weaken The Keeper and there are earlier moments too that seem somewhat simplistic, but both Kross and Freya Mavor play well and Henshaw provides solid support. It's also the case that the director Marcus H. Rosenmüller (also co-writer with David J. Schofield) has a firm hand on the wheel and a good editor in Alexander Berner. In retrospect The One That Got Away was a timely reminder that our attitudes to Germans should not continue to be coloured by past history: similarly to tell Trautmann's story today when the world is seeing a rise in traditional nationalism linked to the far right could not be more apt.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: David Kross, Freya Mavor, John Henshaw, Harry Melling, Michael Socha, Gary Lewis, Dervla Kirwan, Dave Johns, Julian Sands, Chloe Harris, Mikey Collins, Barbara Young.

 

Dir Marcus H. Rosenmüller, Pro Robert Marciniak, Chris Curling, and Steve Milne, Screenplay Marcus H. Rosenmüller and Nicholas J. Schofield, Ph Daniel Gottschalk, Pro Des Johannes Sternagel, Doerthe Komnick and Michael Binzer, Ed Alexander Berner, Music Gerd Baumann, Costumes Anke Winckler.

 

Lieblingsfilm/Zephyr Films/British Film Company/SquareOne Entertainment/ARRI Media-Parkland Entertainment.
119 mins. Germany/UK. 2018. Rel: 5 April 2019. Cert. 15.