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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Kim Sears is reported to have directed abuse at Berdych
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee