The Keeper (Trautmann): this treacly Bert Trautmann biopic almost hits the back of the net
The true story of Bert Trautmann, the German who played for Manchester City after the second world war. This is a heartfelt blend of romance and football
The story of Luftwaffe paratrooper turned legendary Manchester City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann feels ready-made for the screen, and director Marcus H. Rosenmüller very nearly hits the back of the net with this handsome period weepy.
No goalkeeper ever had more anxiety at the penalty kick, or anywhere else, than Bert Trautmann. The German PoW who stayed on in Britain after the second world war, played for Manchester City from 1949 to 1964. And in the victorious 1956 FA Cup final became a legend for playing to the final whistle with a broken neck.
Initially, the very presence of this former Wehrmacht soldier caused outrage in Manchester, particularly among its Jewish community.
But Trautmann’s sincere disgust at Nazi war crimes, his decency, humility, marriage to a British woman – and his great performances on the pitch – won the city over. What proved decisive was a remarkable open letter to the press from Manchester’s communal rabbi, Alexander Altmann, asking for Trautmann to be given a chance.
This forthright and heartfelt Anglo-German production gives a small role to Altmann. And it might have made rather more of his part in the story. (Yet another, more ironically-minded film might have made facetious comments about where Trautmann learned that fiercely dedicated team spirit.)
This is a straightforward historical romance, from German director Marcus H Rosenmüller and co-writers Robert Marciniak and Nicholas Schofield. It is well played by David Kross as Trautmann and Freya Mavor as Margaret, the woman with whom he fell in love. John Henshaw gives a typically excellent performance as Margaret’s plain-speaking dad. And also has a script credit, evidently ensuring that the English dialogue of the German-speaking screenwriters sounds properly Lancashire.
It’s a really watchable film, more substantial than most sports movies and many postwar dramas
Although Trautmann’s own romantic life might have been a bit more complicated than this film suggests: He in fact had a child with another woman before Margaret. This is a muscular and sympathetic story.
Director Marcus H. Rosenmüller (Grave Decisions) assembles a narrative in which, ultimately. The beautiful game draws former enemies together, and to that extent this match can feel predictable from the outset. Trautmann’s life, however, was so full of unlikely plays that his personal journey is anything but. Lovely recreations of a post-War Britain (much shot in Northern Ireland), coupled with David Kross’s sympathetic. If mostly mute – performance will ensure this scores highly in both the UK and German-speaking territories, crossing over between football fans and older audiences. Premiere TV slots alongside SVOD should also provide a rich playing field.
The trouble with an extraordinary life like Trautmann’s is that, in trying to contain it all on screen
The film can feel episodic (war, followed by POW camp, followed by football, girlfriend, child, broken neck, etc). And Rosenmüller gilds the lily with a vengeful British prison sergeant, resulting in a pantomime tussle in a cemetery. For the most part, though, he has a strong grasp on this old-fashioned film, choosing to focus on the romance between Bert (Bernd) and Margaret (Freya Mavor). The daughter of the manager Jack Friar (John Henshaw). Who is shown pulling him out of a Lancashire prison camp to play in goal for a struggling local team, St Helen’s.
Apart from a few early scenes in German which set out the distinction between ordinary soldiers and bad Nazi’s in the camp. There’s a determination not to anchor Bert’s character in pre-war or – past one repeated image – wartime Germany. There’s no explaining away the fact he volunteered for service in the Luftwaffe, or spent four years at the front. So the filmmakers don’t try to provide an answer in a traumatic childhood. For example, choosing to stick with Trautmann’s own explanation that he regretted his actions.
So much time is devoted to the camp, Margaret, Bert’s release and ultimate acceptance by Friar’s family and friends. That the rest of the film sprints by a tad lopsidedly.
Drawn together by flashbacks about the wartime death of a young Jewish boy who physically haunts Bert’s life in the UK, Trautmann rattles through plot points. Which could fill an entire film by themselves. There’s the huge protests outside Manchester City which greet Trautmann’s appearances; a turning-point decision by the local Rabbi to accept the fact that a German would play in the league. Success on the team culminating in that 1956 final and the broken neck; and further personal tragedy. Which results in Bert deciding not to play any more games due to crippling personal guilt.
There’s something about Trautmann, though. That makes this film continuously watchable despite some heavy handed touches (traumatic sequences have a pronounced tendency to take place in the rain, for example). It’s easy to look past this and search for him in every scene. That’s of course due to Kross’s silent appeal. Although he’s remarkably well-fed for a POW – but also to the sense that this is a good man whose extreme life story is an inspiration in very different times. When reconciliation can seem so difficult.
Production values are sound throughout. Adding greatly to the film’s charm are early sequences set in local dance halls, matched later by recreations of pivotal games which cleverly meld in archival material to deliver a strong sense of time and place.
Genre: Art House & International, Drama, Romance
Directed By: Marcus H. Rosenmüller
Stars: David Kross, Freya Mavor, John Henshaw
Written By: Marcus H. Rosenmüller, Nicholas J. Schofield
Runtime: 120 minutes
Studio: Parkland Entertainment
For the most part, the film embraces its contradictions. As a parable about forgiveness, it’s a fine example. As a portrait of the real Trautmann, some questions remain, hanging in the air like a ball on the way to the far corner of the net.
A number of omissions skew the full story, but a charming and often enlightening watch all the same.
This may be a true story but the structure of the screenplay makes it feel like a cheesy rom-com at times.
“The Keeper” finds the perfect way to articulate the substantial power of forgiveness. – Mark Goodyear, BRWC