MIDWAY : The unforgiven

People claim that TV’s power ain’t what it once was. Thanks to a recent documentary, the extraordinarily titled Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, which was shown on the satellite channel BBC4 in October, it has been claimed that the charges of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, to which he pleaded guilty 31 years ago, should be overturned. Polanski’s lawyers have filed papers this week to clear his name, allowing him to end his self-imposed exile in France, where he has lived since fleeing California in the middle of the case.

The documentary’s director, Marina Zenovich, argues that Polanski was on the receiving end of serious judicial misconduct. She also suggests the Polish director was the victim of racism, as well as growing American anxiety about the bohemianism he embodied. This may all be true. But here is what happened on the particular night in question in 1977: Polanski, then 44, was taking photos of 13-year-old Samantha Gailey for a magazine. He took her back to Jack Nicholson’s house and gave her champagne and, according to her, the recreational drug Quaaludes. He then, it’s been alleged, sodomised her. He pleaded guilty to sex with a minor, served 42 days, and then fled the country before the final sentencing.

In his 1984 autobiography, Roman, the director elliptically insists the sex was consensual, saying “she wasn’t unresponsive”. Gailey’s descriptions of it, however, suggest that her response wasn’t enthusiastic.” Polanski’s life defies comparison when it comes to personal tragedies. His mother was killed in the Holocaust. He managed to survive and made his way to America where he married actor Sharon Tate. When Charles Manson’s followers broke into his house and killed Tate and her friends, it was suggested that they were inspired by Polanski’s film, Rosemary’s Baby.

Hugely tragic but not an excuse for sodomising a 13-year-old. Zenovich has said that everyone in the 70s was going a little off piste, sexually: “Polanski was simply the one who got caught.” And he pleaded guilty. It is possible to feel pity for what Polanski suffered in his early life, but not to forget what he did as an adult. By all means, have another trial. But not even the 70s is an excuse for sex with a child.