Bert Trautmann was the German paratrooper who became a prisoner-of-war and then Manchester City’s goalkeeper.
At first reviled for his Nazi background, he was eventually lionised by English football fans, especially Manchester City supporters.
City’s first-choice goalie from 1949 to 1964, he will for ever be the only man in history with an Iron Cross, an FA Cup Winner’s medal and an OBE.
Sporting biopics can sometimes be a bit clunky, and Trautmann — who died in 2013, aged 89 — definitely did not deserve clunk. What a relief and a pleasure, then, to report that The Keeper, with Bert Trautmann as David Kross (above) is a terrific, big-hearted film, whether you like football or not
Yet it wasn’t his unique haul of gongs or contribution to Anglo-German relations which gave Trautmann an everlasting place in football lore.
No, it was the fact that, in making one of his trademark courageous saves at an opponent’s feet in the 1956 FA Cup final, he broke his neck.
After a few perfunctory dabs of the trainer’s magic sponge, he then carried on for the last 16 minutes of the game, making several more saves to preserve City’s 3-1 lead. Admittedly, he didn’t know he’d broken his neck, even though his head was hanging to one side like an Action Man savaged by a dog.
He wasn’t told for another two days that he’d been a hair’s breadth away from paralysis and possible death.
Yet that wasn’t the worst news he received in the summer of 1956. Just a few weeks later he got a phone call, telling him that his son, six-year-old John, had been knocked over and killed while running across the road from an ice‑cream van.
At first reviled for his Nazi background, he was eventually lionised by English football fans, especially Manchester City supporters. City’s first-choice goalie from 1949 to 1964, he will for ever be the only man in history with an Iron Cross, an FA Cup Winner’s medal and an OBE
I know Trautmann’s story well because I once interviewed him. I also reviewed Catrine Clay’s very good 2010 biography of him. All of which made me fret slightly as I took my seat at a screening of The Keeper.
What if it was no good? Sporting biopics can sometimes be a bit clunky, and Trautmann — who died in 2013, aged 89 — definitely did not deserve clunk.
What a relief and a pleasure, then, to report that The Keeper, is a terrific, big-hearted film, whether you like football or not.
True, not all of the footie sequences are entirely convincing. And as Bert’s earthy Lancastrian father-in-law, John Henshaw gives one of those borderline comedic performances of his — as if he’s just stopped off to do a spot of acting on his way to The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club — that at times feels out of kilter with everything going on around it.
It sensibly shapes The Keeper around Trautmann’s relationship with the woman who became his first wife, Margaret Friar (engagingly played by Freya Mavor, above), making the film as much a love story as a sporting biopic
But the German actor David Kross (whose best-known part was as a boy opposite Kate Winslet in The Reader, another tale of post-war guilt and redemption) is well cast in the title role.
Moreover, the script by Robert Marciniak, Nicholas Schofield and the film’s German director, Marcus Rosenmuller, generally avoids the pitfalls into which films like this often plunge.
It sensibly shapes The Keeper around Trautmann’s relationship with the woman who became his first wife, Margaret Friar (engagingly played by Freya Mavor), making the film as much a love story as a sporting biopic. This anchors the narrative and gives it a clear chronology.
It kicks off in wartime. In St Helens, near Liverpool, Margaret is dancing the night away until an air raid spoils the fun. Meanwhile, Bert is captured by British soldiers. He is sent to a PoW camp in Lancashire, where he undergoes a process of ‘de-Nazification’.
Although, for understandable reasons, the film rather fudges the issue, Trautmann was considered one of those most in need of this ideological cleansing. He had been an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth movement and signed up for active service as soon as he was able.
Bert is the target of intense anti-German feeling, which dissipates partly thanks to the efforts of a compassionate Manchester rabbi, but largely because Bert is just so darned good and brave
Rosenmuller shifts the goalposts a few times during the film. In real life, in a forest clearing on the Eastern Front, Trautmann witnessed the brutal murder of dozens of Jews, made to climb into a pit where they were machine-gunned by the SS. Here, the episode is reworked to depict the fate of a single Jewish child as he reclaims a football. Bert is haunted by the memory.
At the PoW camp, his goalkeeping skills attract the attention of a non-league team, St Helens Town, and when he is offered the chance to be repatriated, he declines.
Jack Friar (Henshaw), who runs St Helens Town, invites Bert to lodge with his family. Margaret, having overcome her initial hostility to the big blond German up the stairs, begins to fall for him.
Soon, he also catches the eye of Manchester City scouts.
There are several weighty issues in this film, but Rosenmuller doesn’t treat them too portentously, largely because the romance keeps everything grounded in ordinariness.
Bert is the target of intense anti-German feeling, which dissipates partly thanks to the efforts of a compassionate Manchester rabbi, but largely because Bert is just so darned good and brave.
By 1956, even before the FA Cup final that immortalised him, he is a hero. But then, at the peak of his popularity, he must reconcile the adulation with the harrowing grief following John’s death.
Again, the film fudges what happened next. The Trautmanns went on to have two more sons, but Bert saw little of them as they were growing up and, though there is no hint of it here, the marriage didn’t survive.
The Keeper can perhaps be accused of benevolence towards its subject. But this is no hagiography.
It is a passion project on which Rosenmuller had been working long before Trautmann died, and it deserves to be seen for lots of reasons. Chiefly, because it truly is a heck of a story.
A delightful walk on the wild side
Missing Link (PG)
Verdict: Charming animation
There is nothing wildly original about the story in this beguiling animation from Laika — the company that produced the 2014 hit The Boxtrolls — about a dashing Victorian adventurer who discovers semi-mythical creatures in far-off places.
Yet it is so beautifully directed and wittily written (hats off to Liverpudlian Chris Butler, who did both jobs) that it really is a pleasure from beginning to end.
The Bigfoot (Zach Galifianakis) turns out not to be elusive at all and agrees to help Sir Lionel gain membership of a snooty explorers’ club in London, if only Sir Lionel will help him meet his cousins, the Himalayan yetis
A stellar voice cast helps, too. Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) sets off for North America in pursuit of the elusive Bigfoot, the ‘missing link’ between primitive man and his 19th-century descendants.
In fact, the Bigfoot (Zach Galifianakis) turns out not to be elusive at all and agrees to help Sir Lionel gain membership of a snooty explorers’ club in London, if only Sir Lionel will help him meet his cousins, the Himalayan yetis.
Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, David Walliams and Zoe Saldana also lend their voices in a film that, at the family screening I attended, pulled off that impressive double-whammy of making parents laugh as much as their children.
There’s gold in that thar tale of sibling assassins
The Sisters Brothers (15)
Verdict: Immensely classy Western
At last year’s Venice Film Festival, which is where I first saw Jacques Audiard’s enormously compelling Western, The Sisters Brothers, there was an audible gasp of horror from the audience when a nasty-looking spider scuttled purposefully into the open mouth of a sleeping man.
There were also chuckles of delight when a character —– the same one, as it happens —– cautiously used a toothbrush for the first time, having diligently read the instructions first.
Now, while it’s true that Venice crowds are a demonstrative bunch, it’s not every Western that moves an audience to make collective noises. But then, The Sisters Brothers is not your typical Western.
It is 1851. The California Gold Rush is in full swing and the white heat of modern technology has recently produced both the toothbrush and, if the film is to be believed, the flushing lavatory in The Sisters Brothers [File photo]
For one thing, it is gloriously rich in period detail. Outside the swinging doors of the saloon, most Westerns don’t bother too much with calendar specifics. A sense of place is more important than a sense of time.
Just think of your favourite and ask whether it is set in 1860, 1880 or even 1900? The chances are you won’t have a clue.
Yet, from the beginning of The Sisters Brothers, we know its precise historic as well as geographic backdrop.
It is 1851. The California Gold Rush is in full swing and the white heat of modern technology has recently produced both the toothbrush and, if the film is to be believed, the flushing lavatory.
(I thought the modern loo was introduced a decade or so later by an enterprising Yorkshireman called Thomas Crapper, but maybe that’s just wishful thinking.)
Anyway, the place is Oregon, where hotheaded Charlie Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix) and his sweet-natured brother Eli (John C. Reilly) are professional hitmen.
Their paymaster is a sinister figure known only as the Commodore (Rutger Hauer). He has instructed them to find and kill a chemist called Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), but not before extracting his secret formula for finding gold.
A private detective called John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) is also on Warm’s trail, with a brief to deliver him to the Sisters brothers.
That’s the essence of the story, lifted from a novel by Patrick deWitt and given a darkly comedic edge by Audiard.
But engrossing as the narrative is, the greatest pleasures of this terrific film lie in the contrasting personalities of the various protagonists, and in the way a quartet of wonderful actors bring them to life.
A superhero with vim (but give it a trim)
Verdict: Way too long, but fun
So far, the six superhero movies in the so-called DC Extended Universe have, on the whole, struggled to match the wit and fluency of their Marvel counterparts.
Shazam!, the seventh in the franchise, gets closer.
It never takes itself too seriously, rather a DC trait until now, and bowls along so cheerfully that it would be fun to go along for the ride — if only the ride were a sensible length. It is 132 minutes long, which is utterly crazy for a film aimed mainly at children.
Sadly, all this takes far too long to get going — the film could lose 15 minutes at both ends — but it’s fun when it does, and Levi milks every drop of goofy comedy out of the superhero guise
The story borrows heavily, and with a kind of swaggering self-consciousness, from the late Penny Marshall’s delightful 1988 comedy Big.
In that film, you’ll recall, a boy on the cusp of adolescence has his wish — to be ‘big’ — granted by a mechanical fortune-teller at an amusement park.
Here, a boy of roughly the same age, foster child Billy Batson (Asher Angel), is given the same power by an ancient wizard called Shazam and is transformed into a grown-up superhero (Zachary Levi), who faces a supervillain foe played by Mark Strong.
Director David F. Sandberg and screenwriter Henry Gayden acknowledge their debt in several ways that fans of Big will recognise. It’s cutely done.
Sadly, all this takes far too long to get going — the film could lose 15 minutes at both ends — but it’s fun when it does, and Levi milks every drop of goofy comedy out of the superhero guise.