Roman Polanski to make film about The Dreyfus Affair

By Jennifer Lipman, May 10, 2012

Veteran filmmaker Roman Polanski is to bring one of the most notorious cases of antisemitism to the big screen.

Mr Polanski is set to direct a film about The Dreyfus Affair, a scandal that erupted in 1890s Paris after a Jewish artillery officer, a graduate of the elite Polytechnic Grande Ecole, was arrested for spying.

The film will be a political thriller, with the screenplay written by Robert Harris, who wrote Mr Polanski’s 2010 political film “The Ghost Writer”.

The case, which has been the subject of numerous works of fiction, saw Captain Albert Dreyfus be court martialled, convicted and stripped of his rank.

In January 1895 he was sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil's Island, but it became clear that he was the victim of a vast cover-up by the French establishment, and that another man was behind the treason he was accused of.

The case, which exposed the antisemitism deep in the French establishment, prompted Emile Zola's famous J'accuse letter and inspired Zionist leader Theodore Herzl, then a young journalist, to reconsider the place of Jews in the diaspora.

Although Dreyfus was released four years later it took until 1906 for him to be exonerated. He was readmitted into the French army and subsequently fought for his country during the First World War.

The Jewish director, who has lived outside the United States since his involvement in a child sex case in 1978, said telling Dreyfus’s story was something he had wanted to do for a long time.

He said he wanted to treat it “not as a costume drama but as a spy story” to show “its absolute relevance to what is happening in today's world - the age-old spectacle of the witch-hunt of a minority group, security paranoia, secret military tribunals, out-of-control intelligence agencies, governmental cover-ups and a rabid press."

Mr Polanski, who won an Oscar for his Holocaust-set film in 2003, survived life in the Krakow Ghetto. Captain Dreyfus’s granddaughter Madeleine was transported to Auschwitz in 1943, but did not survive.

Last updated: 2:42pm, May 10 2012