Director: Marcus H. Rosenmüller
Cast: David Kross, Freya Mavor, John Henshaw, Harry Melling
Running time: 119 minutes
At its best, a narrative catalyst for breaking down cultural boundaries. At its worst, a narrative catalyst for a golden retriever becoming the star striker for The Timberwolves and scoring the winning goal in a kid’s cup final. Somewhere in between: Elijah Wood kicking the shit out of geezers on a Saturday afternoon. From Bend it Like Beckham to Green Street to Air Bud: World Pup, the history of football on film has been, shall we say, a bit hit and miss.
Thankfully, The Keeper keeps play firmly within the grounds of warmth and charm. A British-German co-production, Marcus H. Rosenmüller’s film tells the uplifting tale of Bert Trautmann. But, unless the blood coursing through your veins is the colour of Sky Blue, it’s a name that probably doesn’t mean a great deal.
A former German soldier and British POW, Trautmann went on to amass over 500 appearances between the sticks for Manchester City throughout the 1950s and ‘60s, etching his name in football folklore after famously playing the final fifteen minutes of the 1956 FA Cup final with a broken neck.
David Kross plays the eponymous shot-stopper, who is captured by British forces during the final months of the Second World War and held at a POW camp in the North West of England. There, his penalty-saving ability attracts the attention of local football manager Jack Friar (Henshaw) who arranges for Trautmann to turn out for his non-league side St. Helens Town. Despite initial friction with teammates, Bert helps rescue the team from relegation and wins the heart of Friar’s daughter Margaret (Mavor). Manchester City soon come calling and Trautmann suddenly finds himself in the limelight of professional football. As details of his past become public knowledge and scrutiny begins to cultivate, however, it’s a light that quickly becomes far from attractive.
But, like Italian football in 2006, it isn’t difficult to predict where this one is eventually headed. Trautmann’s gracefulness both on and off the field ultimately wins over the crowd, and, in doing so, he rightfully takes his seat among the legends of Maine Road.
Football frolicking is only half the story here, though. Against the backdrop of an overcast post-war Britain still grappling with anger and angst, Rosenmüller’s film is one about animosity and acceptance more widely, about finding family both inside and outside the dressing room. It’s a story about love and loss where, however good Trautmann might be at preventing the ball finding the net, he remains unable to keep out the ghosts of grief-ridden war-time experiences.
His romance with Margaret is suitably heartfelt — if a little clunky in places — and spliced together with moments of touching tragedy. Henshaw’s bumbling, every-man likeability provides the welcome comic relief in a script that occasionally drifts into the realms of cliché — “I would rather have danced with you than stood on the battlefield” pronounces the titular hero part way through proceedings.
On the pitch, however, the visual flair is consistently strong. Cutting between full colour recreations and black and white archive footage, the action feels both energetic and authentic. The football grounds of old — colosseums assembled from metal and brick, a far cry from the flashy stadiums of the modern era — are wonderfully re-erected via some impressive CGI. Nostalgia rings from the stone terraces as the old Wembley grandly lays the platform for Trautmann to carve his name into the history books. By the end, the urge to don the Thinsulates, and blurt indistinguishable chants, pie in hand, until the larynx totally packs it in will be all too great.
As joyous as Tiki-taka football and as sweet as halt-time oranges — with The Keeper, the legacy of Bert Trautmann is in safe hands.