Emmanuelle in Soho (1981)
Directed by David Hughes
Starring Mandy Miller, Julie Lee and Kevin Fraser
Release Date: July 9, 1981
As the Swinging 60s transitioned into the Saucy 70s, sex was everywhere in Britain. Earthly delights were used to sell everything from soap to automobiles. Double entendre-laden sitcoms like Are You Being Served? ruled the airwaves. Like all cultural movements, the movies both mirrored and spurred on the trend. Sexy diversions such as COME PLAY WITH ME (1977) and THE PLAYBIRDS (1978) were huge hits and their star, Mary Millington, was a household name.
As the sun began to set on the decade the sex comedy genre was fading in Britain, its death knell being the tragic suicide of Mary Millington. The freewheeling 70s succumbed to the ambition-driven cynicism of the 80’s and the Grindhouse era ground to a halt.
At the time of her death, Millington was slated to appear in the ironically-titled FUNERAL IN SOHO for her paramour, pornographer David Sullivan. With the late Millington out of the picture, the film was reworked into EMMANUELLE IN SOHO. The film would be the last legitimate hit of the sexploitation era in Britain.
Photographer Paul (Kevin Fraser), his sexually-frustrated wife Kate (Julie Lee) and their lodger Emmanuelle (Mandy Miller) are trying to succeed on the sordid streets of Soho and not doing particularly well at it. Paul continually tries to sell his photographs to smarmy porn peddler Bill Anderson (producer and co-writer John M. East) only to be rebuffed. Kate has to stoop to taking a role in the nudie revue Hang About Sebastion to make ends meet. Meanwhile, Emmanuelle poses as “Peggy the Pushover” in order to seduce Anderson into buying Paul’s pictures. When the trio discover that Anderson has actually been selling off Paul’s photos as his own, and “making a packet” as a result, they stage an elaborate orgy and invite the slimeball in hopes of getting dirt on him for some good, old-fashioned blackmail. Dad jokes and swingin’ titties ensue.
EMMANUELLE IN SOHO’s winding road to the screen began two years earlier as David Sullivan continued to find ways to squeeze more revenue out of the overexposed Mary Millington. Millington had been the undisputed star of Britporn for more than half of the decade by 1979 and audiences were beginning to move on to fresher faces. Millington had long suffered from depression, substance abuse and run-ins with the law which led to her suicide in late 1979. Undeterred by grief, Sullivan reworked his FUNERAL IN SOHO script, arbitrarily threw in the “Emmanuelle” name and went searching for the next big thing in cinema sex. Enter half-English, half-Chinese stunner Julie Lee.
Julie Lee was, by all accounts, a calculating and driven young woman always looking for the fast lane to fame and fortune. A former model, prostitute, manager and madame, Lee had lived quite a life by her mid-20’s when she met Sullivan. It’s not hard to see why Lee caught the pornographer’s eye. Lithe of body, an early-adopter of silicone enhancement, a winning smile and cool demeanor, she had an exoticism that set her apart from the average Page 3 strumpet. She was a natural choice for a low budget softcore flick: beautiful, up for most anything and willing to perform for free – as long as she was given the lead role. It all should have gone smoothly, but when Lee opened her mouth she revealed a thick, often impenetrable Yorkshire accent that jarred with her exotic looks.
Unimpressed with her acting but eager to capture her sultry beauty on camera, Sullivan reassigned Lee to the role of Kate, the protagonist’s wife, and Angie Quick was brought in to be the titular heroine. It hardly mattered as both roles had roughly the same screen time and under-demand for craft. Quick had been a nude model in various men’s magazines and was re-christened Mandy Miller, “The New Mary Millington” in publicity for this film. Quick has a natural charm and is completely at ease before the camera.
EMMANUELLE IN SOHO doesn’t get too bogged down in smart dialogue or logic in its brisk 68 minute runtime. Paul, Kate and Emmanuelle are presented as young and eager and barely scraping by…despite the fact that they live in a very swish flat in what looks more like Mayfair than Soho. Their furnishings are all designer while Emmanuelle and Kate are painted and coiffured within an inch of their lives.
Padding out the runtime we get a few setups on repeat: fumbling softcore sex followed by Kate and Paul arguing about money, Emmanuelle trying to seduce anything with a pulse, then a series of unfunny Uncle-at-a-Bar Mitzvah sex jokes from John M. East as the seedy porn king. What EMMANUELLE IN SOHO lacks in narrative progression it makes up for in visuals. Barely a frame goes by without a female (and occasionally male) cast member dropping their kit and gesticulating wildly to pleasing stock-disco music. Director David Hughes gives the viewer what they are looking for and there is plenty to gawk at. Despite this being Hughes’ only film, he coaxes a good-looking one from his crew.
EMMANUELLE IN SOHO has moments of humor and a variety of body types on display for every taste, but its main interest is as a time capsule of Soho in the late 70s and early 80s. While largely studio-bound, when the characters move outside into the flashing lights of the sex district the film comes alive.
“The only place in the world where it’s shady on both sides of the street,” Soho itself is the film’s most compelling character. There is so much sex on display that it is quite otherworldly. Like the fever dream of a frustrated, middle-aged man, every fantasy is at beck and call and no kink is too extreme that it can’t be delivered by the denizens of Soho. It is a world of sex without emotion and free from consequence. A far-flung island where the rules we live by day-to-day simply do not apply, a world both cynical and liberating. It is a world far removed from today where every corner of town and suburb is saturated with porn and permissiveness thanks to the Internet.
The centerpiece of the film is the (ahem) climactic orgy sequence which is a frenzy of gaudy colors and bare flesh, with amusing cutaways to the dirty doings of the various party goers. The most memorable of these is an unintentionally hilarious threesome which amounts to two women writhing under overdubbed moaning while an uncredited man humps the bedclothes in their general vicinity. As we cut back and forth from the threesome to the party elsewhere in the house, we see the same two women dancing with other characters at the same time they are copulating in the bedroom.
EMMANUELLE IN SOHO was released in three different cuts. For the Far East, hardcore material was added (not featuring the main cast). The most interesting bit of EMMANUELLE IN SOHO isn’t present in that version or the original cut, but in the US release. Assuming that American audiences wouldn’t be familiar with the carnal joys of Soho, a 6-minute mini-documentary was tacked on in prologue. This addition is a sordid delight as cameras whiz through the seedy cinemas and countless adult bookshops of Soho. Clips of leering photographers, tarts on the make, disco-dancing drag queens and big-haired bimbos bathing in pairs are presented in a dizzy stream of sordid fascination. As we peek into peep shows and browse row upon row of smutty magazines, a narrator employs one of sexpolitation’s oft-used tropes: po-faced condemnation of everything the punter has come to the film to see while simultaneously celebrating it in the visuals:
“Year after year, young girls bare their bodies for a movie camera…pretending passion, imitating acts of love, simulating multiple orgasms, becoming stars of sex in a tawdry alley of the silver screen!”
The narrator tut-tuts this condemnation as we watch three women grope each other in front of a unapologetically-prurient camera. This prologue is a hilarious addition that could stand on its own.
While EMMANUELLE IN SOHO is narratively wobbly, it’s also quite charming. The young cast hams it up for the cameras and is having a blast. The fun is really rather contagious and after a while the lame humor starts to grow on you.
Kate: What are you reading?
Jill: Sex Before 20.
Kate: Personally, I don’t like an audience.
This Carry On-style of dated humor runs right through the film and the cast has to fight quite hard not to laugh at their own dialogue. Everyone involved really tries to make a go of it. It’s not a great film, by any stretch, but it has a louche appeal that makes it very enjoyable.
But, let’s get back to our story. (Minor spoilers which, trust me, won’t spoil your enjoyment one bit.) Paul’s plan to blackmail Anderson by photographing him schtupping his secretary at the orgy comes off without a hitch and our three young people make good. Paul becomes Soho’s latest smut mogul, Kate gets to release her sexual frustrations with her hunky revue co-star Derek (Timothy Blackstone, DIVERSIONS) and Emmanuelle pretty much vanishes from the narrative. The film closes with Kate racing around London in her Mercedes telling the audience, in heavily-accented voice over, what becomes of everyone. Apparently they all lived happily ever after…other than the occasional nip into the GP’s for a penicillin shot, one supposes.
Time has rather neglected EMMANUELLE IN SOHO which is interesting as it was an enormous hit when it premiered in London. Across two cinemas it ran for 35 straight weeks. It was an even bigger hit in its hardcore iteration in Hong Kong, where it ran for a jaw-dropping three years.
None of the cast would go on to significant careers after their adventures in SOHO. Kevin Fraser began as a child actor in the late 1960s and made one film post-SOHO before vanishing into a private life. Timothy Blackstone, who plays Kate’s co-star Derek, had a career starring in both hardcore films and walk-on roles on episodic TV (including several appearances in Doctor Who). SOHO would be his last film. He moved into the financial sector, later getting into trouble for alleged insider trading. Orgy-girl Linzi Drew debuts here and would become one of the most notorious British porn queens, releasing her tell-all memoir Try Everything Once Except Incest and Morris Dancing: The Intimate Autobiography of a Dangerous Lady in 1992. Mandy Miller appeared in David Sullivan’s next Millington cash-in MARY MILLINGTON’S WORLD STRIP-TEASE EXTRAVAGANZA and the 1983 version of FANNY HILL before retiring. She went on to a very successful, long-running career in education.
Julie Lee would not be so fortunate. After appearing alongside Mandy Miller in an unspeaking, uncredited role in MARY MILLINGTON’S WORLD STRIP-TEASE EXTRAVAGANZA further offers were not forthcoming. Lee’s life was a fascinating one of cold, jaded ambition. Growing up in Sheffield she opened her own modeling studio that quickly morphed into an escort service. When Yorkshire could no longer contain her ambitions she moved on to London where she dabbled in prostitution and drug pushing before meeting a horrific end in a fiery car crash at the age of 28. You can read more about her tragically short life and even shorter film career in our article Julie Lee: Driven.
EMMANUELLE IN SOHO doesn’t have the innocent silliness of Mary Millington’s sex comedies or the hardcore antics of the films that would succeed it in the video age. It does, however, have a goofy charm that makes it a fitting end to an era and a capsule of a time when visual stimulation was a destination and not a part of the fabric of our everyday lives as it has become in the Internet age. EMMANUELLE IN SOHO is, if not a classic, an amiable diversion from the cold mechanics of modern erotica.
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ARTICLE Julie Lee: Driven