Moving the emotional goalpost

A German POW finds sympathetic ears and romance during World War II in The Keeper

Biography, drama, romance, not rated, 118 minutes, in English and German with subtitles, streaming at Jean Cocteau Cinema, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, 4 chiles

Captured behind enemy lines during World War II, a young German soldier is sent to the Lancashire camp for prisoners of war in England. During the brief respite from forced labor, the German soldiers find recreation in football (what Americans call soccer). Bert Trautmann (David Kross) proves himself adept as a goalkeeper. He catches the attention of a British grocer who provides goods to the camp and who happens to manage a local football team. And he also catches the eye of the manager’s daughter.

Based on a true account, The Keeper tells the story of the love between the young woman, Margeret (Freya Mavor), and the German POW, and how, with the help of an empathetic rabbi, they overcome the public hostilities of the local community. It’s an engaging story of triumph over adversity, and a moving romance, although it’s not without moments of tragedy.

When the acerbic team manager Jack Friar ( John Henshaw) finds himself in need of a new goalie, he comes up with a ploy to get Trautmann assigned to a daily work detail in his shop. But Friar’s real intention is to get him on the team. Trautmann’s first time on the playing field is set to percussion-driven jazz score as he deftly blocks the ball with every kick. He earns the respect of a team that initially hates him (“Ain’t playing with no bleeding kraut”). At the camp, he must contend with fellow POWs who resent his daily reprieves.

When the war is over and the camp is closed, Trautmann chooses to stay in England, playing for Manchester’s City Football Club and making national headlines as he leads the team to victory time and again. But Manchester’s Jewish community can’t separate the man from the atrocities committed by his fellow countrymen. The drama amps up when Trautmann’s role during the war is called into scrutiny. He’s vilified in the press and booed by the crowds at the stadium, but defended by a local rabbi (Butz Ulrich Buse) who pens an open letter, reminding his Jewish congregation of the importance of forgiveness and cautioning them not stray into hypocrisy due to their hatred for the Germans.

The Keeper gives its characters some place to go, and never locks them into one-note performances. It does so convincingly. Trautmann has to prove himself to earn their respect. Others rise to the occasion and, in so doing, inspire the better nature in us all. It’s a poignant story, told with heart and charm, that never rings false. 

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