Roman Polanski acquitted by French court in defamation trial

By Thomson Reuters May 14, 2024 | 8:24 AM

By Louise Dalmasso and Dominique Vidalon

PARIS (Reuters) – A French court on Tuesday acquitted film director Roman Polanski of defaming British actress Charlotte Lewis after she accused him of raping her when she was a teenager.

Lewis, 56, alleged in 2010 that the Franco-Polish director had sexually abused her at his Paris apartment in 1983 when she was 16 after she had travelled to the French capital for a casting session. She starred in his 1986 film “Pirates”.

She sued for defamation after Polanski called her allegations a “heinous lie” in a 2019 interview with Paris Match magazine.

Paris Match also wrote that Polanski cited a quote attributed to Lewis in a 1999 interview she gave to the News of the World, in which she allegedly remarked: “I wanted to be his mistress …I probably desired him more than he did me.”

Lewis disputed the quote’s accuracy.

Polanski’s lawyer Delphine Meillet hailed the verdict as “an important day for free speech and for defence rights”.

“Today a court said: yes one can challenge accusations,” she said.

Lewis said she would appeal the verdict.

“I feel sad and let down. It’s a sad day for women and men. But it’s not over. We are going to appeal,” a tearful Lewis said.

The Polanski verdict came as this year’s Cannes Film Festival gets under way amid speculation about potentially explosive #MeToo allegations against a string of actors and directors.

Polanski, director of classic films like Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Pianist and Carnage, fled California for Europe in 1978 after pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl but before being formally sentenced.

After the #MeToo movement gained global traction in 2017 following sexual abuse allegations against U.S. film producer Harvey Weinstein, several women alleged that Polanski had sexually assaulted them as teenagers.

Polanski has consistently denied the allegations which never went to trial, but he has since found it hard to secure global distribution deals for his movies, even if actors are still lining up to work with him.

In 2020, Polanski won best directing for his film “An Officer and a Spy” at the Cesars, prompting several women in the audience walking out in protest at honouring a man facing rape accusations.

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon and Louise Dalmasso; Editing by Richard Lough and Ed Osmond)