Dominic Lawson: Let's not forget what Polanski did

The film director has been treated with extraordinary indulgence

Share
Related Topics

A man who drugged and sodomised a 13-year old girl would not usually receive the uncritical support of the political and literary establishments. On the other hand, Roman Polanski is not your common-or-garden paedophile: he is possibly the world's most admired film director.

It was on his arrival in Zurich to pick up yet another lifetime achievement award that Polanski was arrested, at the request of the US Justice Department, which has sought him ever since 1978 when he fled rather then face prison for a crime to which he had pleaded guilty.

To say that the Swiss Justice Ministry's swoop on the 76-year-old French citizen has aroused outrage in high places would be an understatement. France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner denounced the arrest as "sinister". Polanski's would-be hosts, the Swiss Association of Directors, are angrier still, calling it "a grotesque judicial farce and a monstrous cultural scandal". In the UK, the novelist Robert Harris – who is working with Polanski on a film of one of his books – said that he was "shocked and stunned... it strikes me as disgusting treatment." The United Nations has stepped in: the Bulgarian Director-Designate of Unesco, Irina Bokova, declaring that "Polanski is a world renowned intellectual... even though I am not aware of any details, this is shocking."

Ms Bokova should acquaint herself with the details of the original case. She might even find them quite shocking, too. In 2003 the Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Wesley unsealed the grand jury testimony of Samantha Galley taken 26 years earlier. In it, the 13-year old, who aspired to become a model, described how Polanski offered to take photos of her for French Vogue... in the house of the film star Jack Nicholson.

There, the 44-year-old Polanski plied her with the drug Quaalude mixed in glasses of champagne. Then, after insisting that she join him in the Jacuzzi, Polanski said: "Let's go in the other room". From this point on, the testimony is harrowing, so skip the next few paragraphs if you are of a squeamish disposition.

"Q. What did you do when he said, 'Let's go into the other room'?

A. I was going 'No, I think I better go home', because I was afraid. So I just went and I sat down on the couch.

Q. What were you afraid of?

A. Him.... He sat down beside me and asked if I was OK. I said 'No'.

Q. What did he say?

A. He goes 'Well, you'll be better'. And I go, 'No I won't. I have to go home. He said 'I'll take you home soon'.

Q. Then what happened?

A. Then he went down and he started performing cuddliness... I was kind of dizzy, you know, like things were kind of blurry sometimes. I was having trouble with my coordination... I wasn't fighting really because I, you know, there was no one else there and I had no place to go."

Q. Did he ask you about being on the pill?

A. He asked, he goes, 'Are you on the pill?' and I went, 'No' and he goes 'When did you have your period?' and I said, 'I don't know. A week or two. I'm not sure'... He goes, 'Come on. You have to remember'. And I told him I didn't.... and right after I said I was not on the pill... and he goes... and then he put me – wait. Then he lifted my legs up farther and he went in through my anus.

Q. Did you resist at that time?

A. A little bit, but not really, because...

Q. Because what?

A. Because I was afraid of him."

This testimony took place barely two weeks after the incident – Samantha Galley did not obey Polanski's demand that she not tell her mother about "our little secret."

We can predict the sort of defence that Polanski's present-day supporters will make in the coming days. They will not be so crass as to suggest, as the new head of Unesco did, that because he is a "world-renowned intellectual", he should be judged differently from lesser beings – although I'm sure that some of them believe it.

They will suggest that the 13-year-old girl was mature for her age and complicit. Samantha Geimer (as she now is) has already said to those who want her somehow to take the blame, "You weren't there. You don't know." And what if she had been partially complicit? Is it less heinous because the renowned film director used his fame and the promise of his support to seduce a 13-year-old?

His supporters will also point out that Ms Geimer herself has previously urged that the proceedings be dropped, because they are embarrassing her family. She certainly deserves even more sympathy on that score; it is one of the perennial problems with rape cases that the victim will very often prefer her assailant to remain unprosecuted, rather than face the ordeal of cross-examination at the hands of his lawyers.

Polanski himself has never, so far as I know, expressed any contrition for what he did. At the time of Bill Clinton's impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky affair, the director observed that, "There's a different justice for people who are public figures than for those who are not", with the implication that somehow he too had been a victim of unfair double standards over matters of sexual behaviour.

The truth is that Polanski has been treated with extraordinary indulgence because of his fame. When in 2003 Polanski was nominated as best director for The Pianist, but didn't attend the Oscar ceremony because of his outstanding arrest warrant, the event's host, Steve Martin, joked to the Hollywood audience "Roman Polanski is here...GET HIM!" Polanski won that evening, and received a standing ovation in absentia.

I do not deny his genius, nor his contribution to cinematic art; but I also share the view expressed by the historian Lord Acton that "if we may debase the currency [of the moral code] for the sake of genius, or success, or rank, or reputation... then it serves where it ought to reign".

If that means nothing to Polanski's defenders among the literati, let them think of this: if it were their 13-year-old daughter who had been drugged and sodomised, would they still feel that the perpetrator was in fact the victim?

d.lawson@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Andy Coulson: With former News of the World editor cleared of perjury charges, what will he do next?

James Cusick James Cusick
Jack Warner  

Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Tom Peck
Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back