Maria McQuillan, Arts & Entertainments Co-Editor.
Going in to The Keeper, I had little knowledge of what this film was about. In my case, that was probably a good thing. I like sports films – I’m a huge fan of I, Tonya and Battle of the Sexes – but I hate football with a passion. Had I any inkling of the amount of football references in the film, I probably wouldn’t have chosen to go see it. More fool imaginary me, as The Keeper is an excellent film.
It was a story entirely unknown to me, but I imagine for football fans the story would also give them a few surprises along the way. The Keeper is a poignant, yet charming film about the experiences of a German POW who is borrowed by Jack Friar (played by John Henshaw), the local football team’s manager to keep his team from losing, after he sees Bert Traumann (played by David Cross) play football in the camp. It details Traumann’s experiences as a POW to his incredible football career at Manchester City Football Club. As a film, it does not shy away from difficult subject matter, such as Traumann’s war experience and also roots itself in the aftermath – an important theme in the film is dealing with the war, both for Traumann, and the British people he encounters as a POW and after, in his football career. The acting by the ensemble cast in the film was terrific, though I would have to single out the performances of David Kross, John Henshaw and Freya Mavor (Mavor plays Kack’s daughter, Margaret). It really is a stunning film, and I found myself to be laughing one minute, only to be stunned silent the next. It’s an incredibly nuanced film, which is so important considering its sensitive subject matter. The story is powerful, and that is matched by the attention to detail in the film-making and performances. This is a very different portrayal of post-war Britain.
The film is a German-Northern Irish production, with scenes filmed in Germany, Manchester and Northern Ireland (particularly in Belfast). What made the screening that I went to so lovely as (unbeknownst to me) this was a special screening, with much of the Northern Irish cast and crew attending. The atmosphere was fantastic, as along with a special introductory message from the producer and director thanking the NI crew and cast, there was a Q&A after, with actor Gary Lewis (who plays Jock Thomson, the Manchester City manager). Needless to say, it was a lovely evening, with a real celebratory air to it, as for many this would have been their first time seeing it. There was a couple I was sat next to, and the husband had been an extra in the film, and of course, as soon as he appeared on screen and delivered his line, there was nudges and whispers to him. It was fantastic to see how much of the film had been shot in NI, and the response it received from the (deservedly) proud audience.