More than your run-of-the-mill biopic. The Keeper tells the remarkable story of a remarkable man and never drops the ball.
We live in strange times. One of the more curious facets of the debate surrounding Britain’s membership of the EU has been the weaponization of nostalgia for a post-war, simpler time. This nostalgia has been draped over arguments both for and against; and it has been interesting to see how a hazily remembered sepia-drenched past has been allowed to influence so much of our present and future. With that context, The Keeper, the new film from director Marcus H. Rosenmuller (Grave Decisions, Beste Chance) gives us a valuable reminder of the importance of our relationships with our European neighbors and how sport can unite us.
The Keeper tells the remarkable story of Bert Trautman, played by David Kross (The Reader, Cross of Honour) the former German POW who went on to play in goal for Manchester City and famously played much of the 1956 FA Cup Final despite having broken his neck. Along the way, he falls in love, overcomes personal tragedy and wins the hearts of a British public who initially refuse to accept a German playing for their team.
The film really focuses on Trautman’s relationships and how they came to define his post-war experience. He is talent-spotted by John, the manager of the local football team, played by the irrepressible John Henshaw (Early Doors, The Cops) who plucks him from the POW camp and puts him between the sticks. Whilst playing there he falls in love with the manager’s daughter Margaret before being scouted by Man City. The central relationships between Trautman and John and Trautman and Margaret are what gives the film its heart and they elevate it beyond more conventional sporting biopics.
The supporting performances, in particular, are confident and well observed, but for me, the standout is Freya Mavor (Sunshine on Leith, The Emperor of Paris) as Margaret. In other hands, the role of Margaret could have easily been two dimensional and simply there to service the story of the male lead; but Mavor brings a depth and inner life to the role that elevates the part and creates a rounded and fully realized person. At times her performance is so strong that she actually overshadows Kross in the role of Trautman.
Henshaw and Dervla Kirwan (Entity, Ondine) provide regular comic relief with an easy humor that seems strategically placed to lighten the mood whenever things start to get too heavy; and Harry Melling (Harry Potter, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) is brilliant as the officious and odious British Army officer.
The Keeper is not flawless by any means. Some of the football scenes play a bit awkwardly (has there ever been a really good depiction of football in films?!), at times the script is a touch on the nose, and occasionally the music is a bit heavy-handed, but I was very happy to forgive it these minor issues because the overall package is so affecting.
The genius of this film is that we are plunged into a picture postcard version of post-war Britain. It’s all green fields and stunning countryside, cobbled streets and men in flat caps drinking ale in pubs from pint glasses with handles. This is a very specific Britain being depicted, and one that, in reality, may never have actually existed. Rosenmuller uses this version of Britain as the backdrop to a story about a German Immigrant who through force of will and talent overcomes rampant xenophobia and makes himself a hero. Something about that feels quite timely, wouldn’t you say?