The Keeper is based on the young life of ManCity goalkeeper Bert Trautmann, whose worldwide fame is due to having weathered the last 20 minutes of the 1956 FA Cup Final with a broken neck.
But fittingly, that incident is a smaller part of the movie, because the real story is how a Nazi soldier and POW became a First Division GK in English football in just a few years after the end of World War 2.
The film gives insight into life in a British POW camp, where Trautmann and other soldiers were re-educated and put to work. There may have been 1,026 such POW camps in Britain, holding 400,000 captives who were eventually repatriated.
In the story, which may be quite fictionalized, merchant Jack Friar (John Henshaw) manages St Helens Town FC and spots Trautmann (David Kross) in the POW camp, stopping penalties to win cigarettes. Trying to avoid his club’s relegation, Friar induces the camp commander to let him borrow the GK to work in his shop and, on the sly, play football. There is anti-German sentiment from the players, fans and Friar’s family, but Trautmann’s goodness and footballing ability win them over.
At the same time, having been in the Hitler youth corp and later won an Iron Cross, Trautmann faces up to what his country has done. He also faces the guilt of knowing that he could have been a better human. The romance between Trautmann and Friar’s headstrong daughter Margaret (Freya Mavor) plays a large part of the story, and her acceptance of him is emblematic of a country trying to heal.
The second part of the story is Trautmann’s move to ManCity and his performance in the FC Cup. He overcomes the antipathy of fans, especially the large contingent of Jewish ManCity supporters. The third part of the story is the tragedy that befalls the Trautmanns just a few months after the neck injury.
The Importance of Trautmann’s story
I was able to attend a JCC zoom talk with Bavarian Writer-Director Marcus H Rosenmüller, in which he talked about what he was trying to do. The story was presented to Rosenmüller 10 years earlier. To him, a driving force was for Germans to talk about the war, something the German people could not bring themselves to confront for decades.
After interviewing Trautmann over 10 days, Marcus decided there are different types of Nazis. Some just kill cold-bloodedly, and others go along and then realize what is happening but hide it. This is where the shame comes from, when we don’t see people as humans and we just follow along and don’t fight for Democracy.
Last year and this, I missed several opportunities to watch The Keeper at Jewish film festivals and online JCC streaming events. I was surprised to be able to find and enjoy it on Kanopy through my library. And this is my point, that this film should not be relegated to ethnic film festivals. The Keeper has valuable messages for this time in our lives, especially for Americans. Doing one’s duty or being a good soldier is not enough. As in #BlackLivesMatter, Silence is Violence.
Other notes about the production
Although The Keeper is Rosenmüller’s first English language film, the first part could easily be mistaken for a typically excellent BBC production, with an emphasis on authenticity. While that part of this British-German production was shot in Scotland, the Manchester scenes were filmed in Bavaria to satisfy a grant requirement. They had to make a Bavarian stadium look like Manchester and use Bavarian footballers (one of them a bit chubby). The soccer is very well done.
Scotsman Gary Lewis plays ManCity manager Jock Thompson. Gary Lewis is probably most recognizable for playing the dad in Billy Elliot, but I noticed that he has acted in 4 soccer movies on my site: The Keeper, Goal!, Joyeux Noel, The Match, plus My Name is Joe.
Lastly, I found it rather interesting that most of the reviews of this film tend to focus on Trautmann’s career and the neck injury that made him famous. After doing some research, I became very unsure how fictionalized the first part of this film is. So my goal now is to read Catrine Clay’s book on Trautmann’s Journey and get a better view of the facts on being a German POW in the UK, and how Trautmann really became a GK. Isn’t it interesting what you can learn from soccer movies?
7 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 7