The Keeper review: The name Bert Trautmann may not be one you instantly recognise, but the former Manchester City goalkeeper is perhaps one of the greatest footballers to have emerged from Germany to play in the English top flight – certainly for his time – and his phenomenal professional career is only surpassed by his fascinating, personal tale which is the subject of this admirable new film from filmmaker Marcus H. Rosenmüller.
The story begins during the final days of World War II, Trautmann (played by David Kross – The Reader) seen captured by the British in the fields of battle and sent to a prisoner of war camp in the north of England. It is here where his skills for playing football, in the role of goalkeeper, are discovered by the coach of a local amateur squad, St Helens Town, a non-league club playing in the Liverpool County Combination. Trautmann is initially released for the camp to fill in as their new keeper, returning before the sun goes down, but as the season progresses, he becomes a more permanent future amongst the team.
Related: The Keeper trailer
The Keeper chronicles Trautmann’s continuing journey, both personally after falling for local greengrocer Margaret, and professionally as he attracts the attention of first division team Manchester City, where he would go on to make soccer history. Along the way there is personal conflict and tragedy, his struggle to gain acceptance in England, and the remarkable achievements on the pitch, the film culminating in the mind-blowing 1956 F.A. cup final at Wembley Stadium.
The film, fittingly a co-production between the UK and Germany, has a wonderful, supremely well-balanced script by Robert Marciniak and Nicolas Schofield, set over many years and condensed into just a couple of hours of enjoyable screen time. Due to the subject matter, the film is at times a tough watch – particularly as Trautmann’s thoughts flash back to scenes he witnessed during the war, but as the German starts to get recognised for his skills on the football field, proceedings become much more uplifting.
There’s a lot to cover, the middle section of the film largely concentrating on the growing relationship between Trautmann and his wife-to-be Margaret (a superb Freya Mavor), with the very high-profile of his signing to professional football team Manchester City – something that was met with huge public outrage at the time – saved for the final reel. Though one felt that certain elements could have been expanded more than others, The Keeper is constantly engrossing and very well paced. Its key cast are excellent; Kross perfect in the role of Trautmann, and a supporting field that includes John Henshaw his first team’s coach – and future father-in-law Jack Friar – as well as I, Daniel Blake break-out Dave Johns, Dervla Kirwan and Harry Melling as the barracking Sergeant Smythe, a key role in the picture.
The climactic scenes of a packed Wembley are breathtaking, the visual effects wonderful executed on-screen to really put the viewer amongst the action on the pitch. While these aren’t the final scenes – there’s much more to say afterwards – they are certainly the most impressive – perfect staged and directed.
The Keeper is a wonderfully constructed biopic of an exceptional life. It balances tension with uplifting resolution, tragedy with continuing romance, and professional achievement with personal fulfilment. Definitely worth catching.
The Keeper review by Paul Heath, April 2019.
The Keeper is released in cinemas on 5th April 2019.