[Skip to content]

Sign up for our daily newsletter
The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Polanski: A life in pictures

Roman Polanski has had a lot of attention over the years for both good and bad reasons. At times for his film-making abilities, but more often than not for the events that have happened in his personal life. However, if you judge him on his filmmaking abilities then it is hard to find fault.

His life has often seemed like the plot of a film. Born in France in 1933 and shortly after moved to Poland, he survived the Jewish ghettos of Krakow and ultimately the Second World War, to later become an actor and a director. Infamy happened in 1969 when his pregnant wife, the actress Sharon Tate, was brutally murdered by Charles Manson. Then in 1977 he was arrested for statutory rape in California. He subsequently fled the US to Europe where he has stayed ever since. However, in late 2009, when in Switzerland to pick up a lifetime achievement award, he was arrested under the outstanding US warrant and placed under house arrest awaiting extradition to the US.

Now, as eventful as his life has been, this article is meant to be about his films. Roman Polanski is a master of making them. He creates thrillers. Thrillers that expertly build up tension and mix this up with a dry sense of humour. I was inspired to write this having recently seen The Ghost — the screen adaptation of Robert Harris’s excellent same-titled book. It is rare to find a film that matches up to the book, but Roman Polanski achieved this, capturing the essence of the story in his trademark style.

I first discovered Polanski as a filmmaker when I was at university. At one of the student cinemas I watched The Ninth Gate. This very underrated tale is of an oddball rare-book seller (Johnny Depp) who is on the hunt for a book written by the devil. This is not everyone’s cup of tea — I spent the whole fi lm laughing and came out feeling I had seen something amazing. The majority of the audience sat there in silence and left muttering. I am not sure what this says about me, but I have watched this film several times since and felt it has got better with age.

My favourite Polanski film and, I think, one of his greatest directorial achievements, is The Pianist. One of the best — if not the best — films made about the Holocaust, Polanski received an Oscar for best director among other numerous awards, including the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. This poignant, harrowing and beautiful tale tracked the survival of W³adys³aw Szpilman, a Jewish Polish pianist, through the Holocaust; a tale that in some way mirrored Polanski’s own survival of this dark period in history. It mixes up scenes of absolute brutality with moments of true beauty, treating this difficult subject with great care.

Some of his other excellent films include classics such as Chinatown (every time I go to any Chinatown I try to use the quote “I’ll see you down in Chinatown” at least once). There is also The Fearless Vampire Killers; the 1967 quirky story set in Transylvania is a great example of how vampire films should be. I have to admit there are many of his films that I have not yet seen so cannot pass comment. However, I look forward to the pleasure of discovering these in future.

With Roman Polanski under house arrest in Switzerland, it is probable that there will not be any more films for a long while. This is a shame for the film world. However, you could argue that his eventful life has already inspired and created many masterpieces of which current events are part and parcel. I encourage you to go and watch some of his back catalogue — you will be entertained.


Recommended CD
Stornoway –
Beachcomber’s Windowsill

The debut album from the indie folk group from Oxford is a treat. Stornoway mix up intelligent song writing with a unique ability to play their instruments in an upbeat, folksy style. I first heard their music in my friend’s car a year ago on a trip to Wales and had to wait far too long for the release of their album, but it lived up to expectations. With many standout tracks, such as the first track, Zorbing, and the introspective Fuel Up, this will most definitely have you tapping your feet.

After over two years, Matt and Finn are ready to hand over the reins to a new arts editor. If you would like to apply for this role, please contact Marjorie Ngwenya editor@the-actuary.org.uk