Did Roman Polanski drug and rape a teenage British actress or is she a vengeful ... trends now

Did Roman Polanski drug and rape a teenage British actress or is she a vengeful ... trends now
Did Roman Polanski drug and rape a teenage British actress or is she a vengeful ... trends now

Did Roman Polanski drug and rape a teenage British actress or is she a vengeful ... trends now

Boarding a Calais-bound ferry, we can well imagine the unknown teenage model's tangled emotions — a mixture of excitement and eagerness tinged with the fear that she might blow the chance of a lifetime.

At 16 years old, Charlotte Lewis had only ever acted in end-of-term plays at her Roman Catholic high school in Finchley, North London.

From nowhere, however, she had been summoned to a one-on-one audition with the great Roman Polanski, a filmmaker whose cinematic genius — but also his dark personal story — had brought him global attention.

The year was 1983. Casting around for a suitably young and unblemished beauty for his latest movie, Pirates, the Polish-French director had been recommended to screen-test Charlotte by a friend, who managed her London modelling agency.

Polanksi was acclaimed for movies such as Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown. Pictured, Roman Polanski pictured with Charlotte Lewis

Polanksi was acclaimed for movies such as Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown. Pictured, Roman Polanski pictured with Charlotte Lewis

Charlotte was on her way (by train and ferry in those pre-Eurostar days) to meet Polanski and try to prove herself worthy of the part. Actress Charlotte Lewis speaks during a press conference on May 14, 2010 in Los Angeles

Charlotte was on her way (by train and ferry in those pre-Eurostar days) to meet Polanski and try to prove herself worthy of the part. Actress Charlotte Lewis speaks during a press conference on May 14, 2010 in Los Angeles

With her raven hair and bewitching eyes — a product of her Chilean, Iraqi, English and Irish parentage — agency boss Karen Smith thought she would be perfect for the role of a kidnapped Spanish ingenue.

Now, with Smith as her chaperone, Charlotte was on her way (by train and ferry in those pre-Eurostar days) to meet Polanski and try to prove herself worthy of the part.

She has since claimed to have known little of his scandalous past then. Yet Polanski had first made headlines in 1969, when his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, was brutally murdered by brainwashed followers of psychopathic cult leader Charles Manson.

But public sympathy evaporated eight years later. By then acclaimed for movies such as Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown, he was charged with luring a 13-year-old girl to the Malibu home of his actor friend, Jack Nicholson, after an apparently innocent modelling photoshoot, then drugging and raping her.

Though the charges against him were reduced, under a plea-bargaining agreement, to a single count of unlawful intercourse with a minor, he faced a probably lengthy jail sentence had he not fled from the U.S. to France while on bail.

Arriving in Paris, Ms Lewis and Smith checked into a cheap hotel. But when, over a champagne dinner, Polanski, then 52, insisted that the young women must stay in altogether grander surroundings — the guest quarters at his stylishly modern apartment on the Avenue Montaigne — they readily agreed.

The year was 1983. Casting around for a suitably young and unblemished beauty for his latest movie, Pirates, the Polish-French director had been recommended to screen-test Charlotte. Screenshot from Pirates

The year was 1983. Casting around for a suitably young and unblemished beauty for his latest movie, Pirates, the Polish-French director had been recommended to screen-test Charlotte. Screenshot from Pirates

At 16 years old, Charlotte Lewis had only ever acted in end-of-term plays at her Roman Catholic high school

At 16 years old, Charlotte Lewis had only ever acted in end-of-term plays at her Roman Catholic high school

So, exactly what happened after they returned to the apartment on that December night, 41 years ago? That question is currently before a Paris court, whose president will soon deliver her verdict.

If we believe Ms Lewis, after Smith retired to bed, Polanski drugged and raped her in a chilling repeat of his assault on Samantha Gailey (now Geimer), the 13-year-old girl in California.

Now aged 90, the director, for his part, claims not to remember whether they had sex that night (after all, he had so many lovers at the time, his lawyer says). Yet of one thing he claims to be certain: if they did sleep together, it was consensual.

However, the task of the 17th chamber of the correctional court in Paris is not to deem which of these stories is true.

In a court where many historic freedom of speech trials have been staged (it was here Gustave Flaubert defended his novel Madame Bovary against obscenity charges) the president must decide whether Polanski had the right to publicly brand Lewis a 'liar' for making the rape claim. This is what he said in an interview with Paris Match magazine, in 2019.

Now a careworn woman of 56 whose acting days are gone, and who lives in a cramped studio flat above Hampstead High Street, Ms Lewis claims he did not — so she is suing Polanski, and the magazine, for libelling her.

Polanski's lawyer, Delphine Meillet, who spoke to me in her chambers near Notre-Dame cathedral, says this is a landmark case which carries huge implications for the #MeToo movement.

Hitherto, she says, claims of alleged historic sexual abuse have followed the same pattern.

When a victim — usually a woman — accuses a man of assaulting her, they are never condemned. They are usually praised for their courage in speaking out, and where the cases come to law the French and European courts rule in their favour.

On Polanski's behalf, she is arguing that the reverse should equally apply. Accused of 'the worst kind of crime', a man should be allowed to speak out in rebuttal, to defend his reputation. Of course, given his admission to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old child, Polanski's many detractors would argue he doesn't have a reputation left to defend.

Certainly, that is the view of French actress Adele Haenel, who shouted 'Bravo la pédophilie!' as she stormed out of the 2020 Cesar awards ceremony (France's equivalent of the Oscars) after Polanski was named best director for his film An Officer And A Spy.

Yet within the movie industry he retains surprisingly widespread and prominent support.

In 2009, when the U.S. authorities tried to extradite him from Switzerland to face justice for the Samantha Geimer assault, 43 prominent figures from the movie industry signed a petition for his release, including Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, Tilda Swinton and director Martin Scorsese.

Polanski's many detractors would argue he doesn't have a reputation left to defend

Polanski's many detractors would argue he doesn't have a reputation left to defend

Ms Lewis's lawyer, Benjamin Chouai, however, points to Polanski's apparent admission, in his autobiography, to having started an affair with actress Nastassja Kinski when she was 15

Ms Lewis's lawyer, Benjamin Chouai, however, points to Polanski's apparent admission, in his autobiography, to having started an affair with actress Nastassja Kinski when she was 15

Among sympathisers, the feeling is that it was a one-off and he has suffered enough. Indeed, his attorney, Mme Meillet says — as a woman — she is 'passionate' in his defence.

Though five more alleged victims claim Polanski sexually assaulted them when they were very young, she accuses them of jumping on the bandwagon — probably for financial gain. Or, she adds bluntly, 'to denounce a celebrity and ensure their 15 minutes of fame'.

'You discover how lies can be built on a very old truth,' she says. 'Of course, he did wrong in '77. And because he did wrong in '77, and women have lied for a long time after, there is a tiny grain of truth in there… but they are building lies on this seed of truth.'

Ms Lewis's lawyer, Benjamin Chouai, however, points to Polanski's apparent admission, in his autobiography, to having started an affair with actress Nastassja Kinski when she was 15, and brands the director's obsession with underage girls 'super-weird'.

'This may be a libel case, but my client is not suing for the money. This is purely about protecting her reputation,' he told me, adding he felt certain she was raped. Ms Lewis first went public with the allegation in 2010, when she gave a bombshell press conference in the Los Angeles office of Hollywood lawyer, Gloria Allred, who now represents several #MeToo victims.

In a statement presented to the Paris court last month, however, she went into copious detail, beginning with that first encounter with Polanski over dinner. 'I remember, Mr Polanski seemed quite disturbed by my presence, he was looking at me intensely and already imagining me playing the role of Dolores (the name of her Pirates character),' she said.

'I myself was very intimidated in his presence, although I must admit that he spoke to me in a way that seemed comfortable. He was soft and gentle.'

Back at the apartment, Smith soon retired to bed, leaving them alone in the living room. Polanski began molesting her, saying that if they were to work together he needed to 'know me intimately'.

'At 16, alone with one of the most famous filmmakers in the world, on the sofa … I was upset that I was not lucid enough to know how to react or detect what he really expected of me.'

At one point, she said, she

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