One of next year’s most eagerly anticipated films, a star-studded thriller featuring a thinly disguised version of Tony Blair, is in jeopardy because of the arrest of Roman Polanski.
The Oscar-winning director had recently finished filming The Ghost, his adaptation of the bestselling novel of the same name starring Pierce Brosnan. But the film is without a musical score and needs sound mixing and extra dialogue before a distributor can be found. With Polanski, who is in Switzerland, awaiting extradition proceedings to the US for having sex with a 13-year-old girl, there are fears that the negative publicity will ruin the film’s chances at the box office.
Polanski co-wrote the script with the book’s author Robert Harris.
Sources on the production of The Ghost, about a British prime minister facing indictment for war crimes, played by Brosnan, told The Times that they were determined to complete the final steps of the production process.
Timothy Burrill, a co-producer, said: “The film will continue. I honestly don’t want to say any more but we’re very close to finishing it now.” However, the final post-production steps are not a formality and Polanski is known for wanting to control every aspect of his films.
Polanski was detained at Zurich airport on Saturday as he arrived to collect a lifetime achievement award at the city’s film festival. According to Variety, the film industry magazine, The Ghost was scheduled for release in February. That date will almost certainly be missed as Polanski waits in custody.
“I am sure that Roman would have a very good idea of how this film would end up and he might be able to edit remotely via his editor,” said Ali Jaafar, international editor of Variety. “It will probably delay the process but it should not derail it entirely.”
The Ghost follows the story of a ghost writer, played by Ewan McGregor, whose research into the former British leader, thought to be modelled on Mr Blair, for his memoirs leads to dangerous revelations. Kim Cattrall and Olivia Williams also star.
Even if The Ghost is finished there are concerns that it could be Polanski’s last work if he is extradited. “If he ends up staying in jail then obviously it is going to have a huge impact on the film because it could be his last ever movie,” Jaafar said.
“And if he is able to resolve the film then it will be the first film since he has been released from jail, so either way it will be in the background.”
Harris defended Polanski, attacking the authorities in Los Angeles for demanding the arrest of the director. In an article for The New York Times, the author said: “Stephen Cooley [the Los Angeles District Attorney] has issued a timeline purporting to show the numerous efforts made by his office to have Mr Polanski arrested. In fact, it reveals precisely the opposite — how half-heartedly the case has been pursued since 1978. Only on five occasions . . . do overseas authorities seem to have been contacted. This is hardly a red-hot manhunt.”
The author speculated that the authorities in Los Angeles were forced into action after a documentary last year prompted Polanski to renew legal efforts to have the case against him closed. Harris said that the child sex victim no longer believed that the director should be prosecuted. “Mr Polanski’s own young children, to whom he is a doting father, want him home. He is no threat to the public,” he said. “Our families have spent time together. His daughter and mine keep in regular touch. His past did not bother me, any more (presumably) than it did the three French presidents with whom he has had private dinners, or the hundreds of actors and technicians who have worked with him since 1977, or the fans who come up to him in Paris for his autograph.”
Polanski has strong support with at least 110 figures from the film industry, including Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Pedro Almodóvar and Tilda Swinton, having signed a petition calling for his release.
But the initial rush pressing for his release has provoked a backlash, with European politicians offering a more cautious note.
Luc Chatel, a spokesman for the French Government, said: “Roman Polanski is neither above nor beneath the law. We have a judicial procedure under way, for a serious affair, the rape of a minor, on which the American and Swiss legal systems are doing their job.”