Is America finally ready to forgive Polanski?

The director's legal team claims the judge and prosecutor acted improperly in the 1978 sex case that has hung over him ever since

The American judicial system is a mighty juggernaut, and rarely given to second thoughts. But it now has a chance to show, if not forgiveness, then at least clemency to one of the world's most celebrated film directors.

The opportunity has arisen with the request last week by Roman Polanski, the Oscar-winning director of such movie classics as Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown and The Pianist, for his 1978 guilty plea to the charge of having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl to be struck down on the grounds of misconduct by both judge and prosecutor in the case.

The plea-bargain deal was reached after Polanski initially faced charges of rape, drug use and sodomy that could have brought life in jail. But even the lesser charge of unlawful sex with a minor carried a prison term. To avoid such punishment, the Polish-born director fled America, and now lives in France, of which he is now a citizen, and which has made clear it will never extradite him to the US.

At the time the case was a colossal scandal. Polanski was widely seen in the US as a strange and vaguely sinister figure, despite the vast acclaim for Chinatown – still regarded as his career masterpiece – four years before. For an America far more strait-laced than it is now, he seemed symbolic of an era of licence and collapsing moral standards.

Many of his films had grotesque or nightmarish sexual themes; paranoia and psychological breakdown were frequent elements in them. He was a foreigner to boot, with a disturbed and tragic life.

He was born to Polish Jewish parents, and his mother died at Auschwitz. He might have suffered a similar fate, had he not managed to escape from the Krakow ghetto. In 1969 his wife, the actress Sharon Tate, pregnant with Polanski's child, was murdered by the Charles Manson cult.

Eight years later came the episode that has made him a fugitive from American justice to this day. Polanski wanted to take pictures of 13-year-old Samantha Gailey for an issue of French Vogue, which he had been asked to guest edit. Her parents gave their consent.

According to the charges, at a second session in Los Angeles in March 1977 Polanski plied the girl with champagne and sedatives before having sex with her. In his autobiography, Roman by Polanski, the director claimed she had been set up by her mother in an attempt to blackmail him.

Now attorneys for Polanski, who is 75, argue that David Wells, the prosecutor in the case, improperly coached the judge, Laurence Rittenband, during the case, and that all the charges should be thrown out. The Los Angeles District Attorney's office has thus far refused comment.

Whether the American legal system is ready to let bygones be bygones remains to be seen. But for the Hollywood establishment and – most important of all – his victim, Polanski has already won redemption.

In February 2003 he won the best director Academy Award for The Pianist (although he did not attend the ceremony in Los Angeles, for fear of being arrested).

Then earlier this year, Samantha Gailey, now Samantha Geimer and a 44-year old mother of three, finally made her peace with him.

"I think he's sorry, I think he knows it was wrong," she said in an interview about a new documentary on the case, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.

But, she went on, "I don't think he's a danger to society. I don't think he needs to be locked up for ever, and no one besides me has ever come out and accused him of anything. It was 30 years ago now. It's an unpleasant memory ... but I can live with it."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Health & Safety Consultant

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic and exciting opport...

Recruitment Genius: Project and Quality Manager

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is an independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Executive - OTE £20,625

£14625 - £20625 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This role is for an enthusiasti...

Guru Careers: Financial Controller

£45 - £55k DOE: Guru Careers: A Financial Controller is required to join a suc...

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'