★★★★ - STUFF
- St Helens are a football club in crisis.
Haunted by the spectre of relegation, their first team's recent performances have been lacklustre, to say the least.
It's a situation which has left manager Jack Friar (John Henshaw) tearing his hair out in frustration, especially when his players seem more interested in carousing than rising to the challenge.
However, salvation might just come from an unlikely source. While on one of his regular visits to the local prisoner-of-war camp, grocer Friar spots a young man with undoubted talent. No-one seems to be able to get the ball past Bert Trautmann (David Kross).
With World War II seemingly coming to a close, Friar asks the camp's sergeant if he can borrow his captive for a few days. Although it's a request that's granted, it's one set to divide a community still reeling from the German air raids of the past few years.
Even Trautmann himself is unsure that he wouldn't rather be on latrine duty than getting booed by his team's own fans while standing between the sticks.
Part footballing drama, part examination of British life in the immediate aftermath of World War II, The Keeper is an understated, yet absorbing biopic of one of English football's finest imports.
Those of a certain generation will remember the brouhaha surrounding Jurgen Klinsmann's arrival at Tottenham Hotspur in 1994 – well, imagine being a German-born footballer playing in the top flight in the late 1940s.
Director Marcus Rosenmuller (Grave Decisions) and co-writer Nicholas Schofield's film explores Trautmann's trials and tribulations during his lengthy career (which totalled more than 500 matches for Manchester City), including the threat of boycott from that club's Jewish supporters and his astounding, injury-defying performance during the 1956 FA Cup Final. The onfield action, while brief, certainly at least gives a sense of Trautmann's remarkable shot-stopping abilities (cutting between archival, newsreel footage and a dramatisation of the Cup Final works surprisingly well).
Away from the pitch, our story does a nice job of giving a sense of the Lancashire community's reluctance to back their team's newest recruit, although it isn't quite so sure-footed in its portrayal of the growing romance between Trautmann and Friar's daughter Margaret (Sunshine on Leith's Freya Mavor). And while a likeable enough lead, Kross (who first rose to fame in the Oscar-nominated 2008 Kate Winslet-starrer The Reader) feels a little more passive than he perhaps should be.
That said, overall this is an excellent tribute to one of the most beloved "foreigners" ever to play the beautiful game in England.
- JAMES CROOT, STUFF