Based on a true story, The Keeper, from director Marcus H Rosenmüller, is the story of a German POW who in the post-war years becomes one of the most famous football (soccer to Americans) players in England. Along the way the story looks the difficulty of forgiving both our enemies and ourselves. And there’s a love story.
Bert Trautmann (David Kross) is a German paratrooper who fought most of the war in Poland, earning an Iron Cross. Late in the war, he’s captured by the British and placed in a POW camp in Lancashire. Because he volunteered for the German army and was well decorated, he gets some pretty nasty jobs in the camp. After the war, the POWs were kept there for some time until repatriation could happen.
One day when Jack Friar (John Henshaw) and his daughter Margaret (Freya Mavor) deliver goods to the camp, Friar sees Trautmann tending goal as the prisoners play football. He is exceptional. Friar is the manager of a local football club that is in dire need of improvement. He arranges to have Trautmann work for him so he can use him as a goalie in upcoming matches. The team prospers, and just about the time Trautmann is due to return to Germany, the manager of the Manchester City club offers him a tryout. Around this same time, Trautmann and Margaret marry. (The love story takes up most of the first half of the film.)
It is not easy for a former Nazi to be accepted either by teammates or fans. The issue was multiplied when he began playing in Manchester, which had a sizable Jewish population. In time, a rabbi who had fled Germany wrote an open letter saying that we shouldn’t judge on what we presume, but judge each by their merit. That let Trautmann find some acceptance, and his exceptional play led the team to more victories—eventually winning the FA Cup—a match in which Trautmann played the last 15 minutes with a broken neck.
The film, as is often the case with sports stories, deals with adversity, perseverance, and heroics. But it is also a love story, and that adds another dimension. In fact, this is more love story than sports story. But the issues of adversity, perseverance, and heroics are just as important in that part of the story.
Through the first half of the film, the adversity has to do with Trautmann’s past as a German soldier, and the perception others had of him. As one character tells him, “To me and everyone around me, you’re still the enemy.” Margaret was just as set against Trautmann as everyone else. But as she got to know him, and saw within him someone who had dreams and fears like everyone else, she softened to him.
Later in the film, other problems arise that test Trautmann individually, and him and Margaret as a couple. We learn in bits and pieces through the film some of the ghosts and guilt that haunt Trautmann. Just as Margaret, then fans had to come to term with how they viewed Trautmann’s past, so must he. Often it is much more difficult to forgive oneself that to find forgiveness in others.
There is an interesting side note in this film for people familiar with Christian hymnody (at least for non-British people). In the scene leading up to the famous championship game, we hear the crowd singing “Abide with Me”. It turns out that that is a tradition for the FA Cup Finals dating back to 1927. (I’ve yet to find an explanation.) It seems a strange song to sing prior to a sports match, given that it is a song asking for God’s presence at the time of death. The song is sung again at the end of the film. While the song is included mostly for its association to football, it also fits well at the end of the film because death crops up at various times in the film, as it does throughout our lives. It is a nice reminder of our need for God’s presence, not only when “fast falls the eventide”, but always.
The Keeper is opening in theaters (where open) and on virtual cinema through local arthouses.
Photos courtesy of Beta Cinema.