World War II, a Romeo & Juliet love story, and soccer - it's a story that practically writes itself. But, wait, what's this!? A twist? The soccer player is a Nazi and the girl he's in love with is English. And he's a PoW. Whoa. Just... whoa. You wouldn't believe it if it wasn't true. Except, is it? My Googling capabilities have yielded me absolutely no confirmation nor denial that the love story portion of the film 'The Keeper' is based on a true story. I'm gonna guess there were some major artistic liberties taken here, but the war (for the most part) and the soccer stuff certainly is true, and it's remarkable. Come for the soccer, stay for the romance.
It's early 1945 when Nazi paratrooper Bernhard "Bert" Trautmann (David Kross, 'The Reader') is captured by the English and sent to a PoW camp in Lancashire. He's despised by head of the camp, Sergeant Smythe (Harry Melling, 'The Lost City of Z'), and spends his days on latrine duty as a result. When local businessman Jack Friar (John Henshaw, 'Stan & Ollie') witnesses Bert's impressive goalkeeping skills at the camp, he recruits him to the local club he manages and puts him to work at his shop alongside his eldest daughter Margaret (Freya Mavor, 'The Sense of an Ending'). I think we can all see where this is going: despite some pushback from players and townspeople, Bert comes to be accepted, even earning himself a place playing for Manchester City, where they're not as welcoming. The war is now over, but many are finding it hard to forgive and forget, failing to judge a man on his merits and instead focusing on his actions during a time of war where no one's hands were clean. Going on to play for Manchester for 545 games, and even winning them the 1956 FA Cup Final with a broken neck, Trautmann became a legend, and a hero on both sides as a conduit for peace, harmony and reconciliation between these once waring nations.
As a love story, a tale of redemption, forgiveness and healing, 'The Keeper' has got the goods. It's sweet, soulful, charming and inspiring. The filmmakers should have stuck with that. When it comes to the actual war elements, to say it's glossed over is an understatement. I completely understand why, but at the same time it feels like a copout just to get people to like their protagonist quicker and easier. And in an effort to truly humanise Trautmann, they've also included a sort of PTSD through-line that just doesn't fit. It's always jarring (not in the way you'd think) when the film goes back and forth to wartime, and it just never feels right. It's a total farce and manipulation, but that's filmmaking for you. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story. The film however is beautifully shot, and I feel it's finally going to introduce its female star Freya Mavor to the world thanks to her stunning performance.
When it comes to the actual war stuff, to say it's glossed over it an understatement.
I wouldn't call 'The Keeper' a great film, but certainly a good one with one hell of a story to tell. War tales are a dime a dozen, but this is certainly a unique story and the first I've heard that incorporates the world's game. I can't imagine there'll be another like it in the future.