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The gloves stay on in Nazi-era movie The Keeper

directed by Marcus H Rosenmüller

A drama about a Nazi POW who kept goal for Man City brushes up against difficult subjects but never risks getting offside.

Sports films are often formulaic: an athlete from humble beginnings is recognised as a burgeoning talent, then faces some kind of crisis before overcoming the doubters in triumphal fashion. The trick is to outsmart the formula and overcome the cliché.

The Keeper, at the very least, has uniqueness going for it: retelling the true story of Bernhard “Bert” Trautmann, a German paratrooper and prisoner of war who, after choosing not to be repatriated at the end of World War II, went on to become a venerated Manchester City goalkeeper. He entered footballing folklore when he played the final 20 minutes of the 1956 FA Cup final with a broken neck.

Mercifully, this biopic isn’t so much about football – only once do we get a speech about the game resembling “a wonderful dance”. Rather, it probes the sometimes understandable, sometimes inchoate prejudices of the British public in the immediate aftermath of the war. Trautmann (David Kross, The Reader) is largely shunned, except on the football field, and is subject to predictable name-calling (“Kraut”, “Fritz”, etc). When his signing to Man City is announced, some 20,000 fans rally outside the team’s home with taunts of “Nazi” and “war criminal”.

Which is fair enough: Trautmann was in the Hitler Youth, served for three years on the Eastern Front, escaped captivity twice, earned an Iron Cross and witnessed an SS death squad in action. The film seems unwilling, however, to confront these truths head-on, preferring to stick firmly within the boundaries of melodrama.

And there are questions that go largely unaddressed: did football fans eventually forgive Trautmann’s Nazi past only because he was a good goalie? What of the man’s reckoning with his own time in uniform? The film brushes up against such difficult subjects, but doesn’t venture any deeper.

Although enjoyable enough in its predictable ebbs and flows, The Keeper can only flit around the edges of the controversy implicit in its subject. In the end, it probes post-war Anglo-German relations with about as much subtlety as an episode of ’Allo ’Allo.



Video: Parkland Entertainment

This article was first published in the August 3, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.