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The Keeper is a new film inspired by the life of Bert Trautmann, a German soldier who became a star goalkeeper for the Manchester City football (soccer) team. Trautmann (David Kross) stays in England after release from a Lancashire POW camp at the end of World War II. He works for a grocer, Jack Friar (John Henshaw), and plays goalkeeper for the local football team Friar manages. Henshaw gives a memorable turn as a lovable lout.
English football fans initially protest the presence of a “kraut” whose comrades bombed their cities. But Trautmann’s skill “between the posts” gains him fans and earns him a spot with a premier team. His warm manner with Friar’s family and claim to have fought unwillingly in the war help to win over Friar’s daughter, Margaret (Freya Mavor). The film has one sensual moment, when Margaret in a nightgown awaits Trautmann in his room. The unrated film merits an R for expletives (transatlantic types and English specialties) and some violence.
Rich in set design and period costumes, The Keeper begins strong as it keeps a tight focus on the blossoming relationship. Margaret’s defenses fall to Trautmann’s quiet charm, but questions about his actions during the war arise. Is he harboring a dark secret? Will their love survive if the truth comes out?
“I did what every soldier had to do,” Trautmann tells Margaret.
Viewers unfamiliar with Trautmann—his playing days ended in the early 1960s—might be surprised to learn (as I was) that the film is based on a true story, a fact not conveyed until the end credits. I initially mistook the tragic twists for histrionics.
Viewers may still find The Keeper dissatisfying on two counts. After a substantial buildup, the film reduces Trautmann’s past to an incident involving his unit and a young Jewish boy kicking a soccer ball. Nothing else of consequence regarding Trautmann’s treatment of Jews is revealed from his military career, life before enlistment, or childhood.
The film’s portrayal of forgiveness misses like a shanked penalty kick. In contrast to a Jewish rabbi’s gracious words defending Trautmann in a letter to a local paper (a brief moment in the film), the public’s acceptance of their former enemy seems to rest on less noble grounds: the goalkeeper’s ability to win matches for the home team. Would people treat him the same way if he settled as a grocer? Trautmann’s new countrymen may be forgetting what he’s done, but that’s not the same thing as forgiving.