Polanski to bring best-seller on last days of Pompeii to the big screen

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The Independent Culture

Roman Polanski has signed a multimillion-pound deal to direct the movie adaptation of Robert Harris's best-selling novel Pompeii.

It is the biggest project yet for the Oscar-winning director, whose previous films include Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown and The Pianist. The film has a budget of $130m (£66m) and Harris is writing the script. Filming will begin in Italy this summer.

"I got seduced by the writing," Polanski told Variety magazine. "In general terms, when someone tells me to make a movie set in ancient times, I say it's not my cup of tea. But I liked that it was a thriller, and I have read all of his books and there is such minute detail. He goes very far into the research."

Polanski said he was also attracted by the similarities to Chinatown, an Oscar-winning drama starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, with a cameo appearance from Polanski.

"There is corruption in connection with water," he said, referring to an aspect of the Chinatown plot in which the city administration is exposed for wasting water during a drought.

Harris, a former newspaper and broadcast journalist, had his bestsellers Fatherland and Enigma filmed for television and cinema respectively.

He turned his attention to ancient Rome in his 2003 novel Pompeii. It blends fictional characters with the real-life eruption in AD74 of Mount Vesuvius that overwhelmed Pompeii and its surroundings. Pompeii is particularly noted for the author's references to vulcanology and the use of the Roman calendar. Harris also credited Polanski for his influence on the book.

He said: "Roman Polanski's Chinatown was a strong influence on me when I was writing Pompeii, so I was especially delighted when he rang me early in the new year and said he wanted to turn it into a movie. I can't think of a better director to bring the book to life both visually and in terms of its plot. I'm also particularly pleased this will be a European-led production filmed on location in Europe."

The book tells the story of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius through the eyes of a young engineer, Marcus Attilius, who is sent out to repair the greatest aqueduct in the Roman Empire, which brings water to 250,000 people around the Bay of Naples. Attilius not only has to fight the corrupt forces which control the town of Pompeii, but ultimately the overwhelming power of nature itself.

The film will be produced by Polanski and Robert Benmussa, of RP Productions, along with Alain Sarde - the same team that produced the Academy Award-winning The Pianist.

"Pompeii will be very dependent on visual effects," Polanski said. "It's always a challenge to do something a little different, but that's what keeps me going."

Polanski is also known for his tumultuous personal life. In 1969 his wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered. In 1978, after pleading guilty to having unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, he fled America for Europe. He currently resides in France. Unwilling to return to the United States and face arrest, he has continued to direct films in Europe, including the the Academy Award-winning Frantic, the Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or-winning The Pianist, and Oliver Twist.