Emily (film)

Emily, also known as The Awakening of Emily, is a British film of 1976 set in the 1920s directed by Henry Herbert, produced and written by Christopher Neame, and starring Koo Stark.

Wilton House, main location of the film
Directed byHenry Herbert
Produced byChristopher Neame
Screenplay byChristopher Neame
StarringKoo Stark
Sarah Brackett
Victor Spinetti
Constantin de Goguel
Ina Skriver
Richard Oldfield
CinematographyJack Hildyard
Edited byKeith Palmer
Alan Paley
Release date
CountryUnited Kingdom

Although R-rated, the film is considered avant-garde rather than pornographic, as is sometimes claimed, with a cast of mainstream actors including Victor Spinetti, Sarah Brackett, Koo Stark, Constantin de Goguel, Ina Skriver, Jeremy Child, Jack Haig, and Richard Oldfield. Its soundtrack was composed and sung by the singer and poet Rod McKuen, while Jacquemine Charrott Lodwidge was art director.

The main setting of the film is Wilton House, which was the director's ancestral seat, and the countryside around it.[1]

Emily was a moderate success at the box office in the 1970s, but in the early 1980s it had a revival and did far better, gaining publicity due to a romance between Koo Stark and Prince Andrew.[1] Around that time the film was often shown on HBO and other cable TV channels.[2]


The film was produced by Christopher Neame,[3] who also wrote the screenplay, claiming to have completed it in seventeen hours. It was intended as a vehicle for him to move into production, and Emily did indeed become his first film. He secured the services of Henry Herbert as director, together with his large house and estate in Wiltshire as location. Neame later wrote that this was "a country house of faded grandeur, but it suited the narrative well with its plush reds and rich greens, all set in a golden landscape".[1] Neame went on to produce Danger UXB, The Flame Trees of Thika, The Irish R.M., Soldier, Soldier, and Monsignor Quixote.[3]

The director, Henry Herbert, had begun by making documentaries about musicians but was directing only his second feature film.[4] His first had been Malachi's Cove (1972), which he had both written and directed, based on a short story by Anthony Trollope.[5][6] The art director of Emily, Jacquemine Charrott Lodwidge, had also worked on Malachi's Cove.[7] The film editor, Keith Palmer, had worked with Lodwidge on another country house picture, Blue Blood (1973), filmed at the nearby Longleat House.[8] The film was Peter Bennett's first as assistant director.[9]


Emily Foster (Koo Stark) is an American-born seventeen-year-old brought up in London. Her father died when she was a small child, while her mother, Margaret Foster (Sarah Brackett), is supported by a lover. The film, set in 1928, follows Emily as she returns home from a finishing school in Switzerland to her mother's country house in the English countryside, where she meets several characters who would like to seduce her, and follows her induction into sensual pleasures.[10] Richard Walker (Victor Spinetti), her mother's lover, is a middle-aged man-about-town who quietly sets his sights on Emily, while a young American writer and schoolteacher named James Wise (Richard Oldfield) tries to impress her by sensual acrobatics in his flying machine, but her first sexual experience is a lesbian encounter with Augustine Wain (Ina Skriver), a Swedish painter who lives nearby. Emily loses her virginity to the painter's husband, Rupert Wain (Constantin de Goguel).[9][11]

Meanwhile, perhaps intended to mark the contrast in the sexuality of the different classes at the time, housemaid Rachel (Jane Hayden) and her soldier boyfriend Billy (David Auker) are engaged to be married, but Rachel tries to insist on waiting until after their wedding before they make love.[11]


The critics did not like the script. Alan Brien wrote in The Observer that Neame and Herbert should have been less tame with a scene in the drawing room, as censorship had been relaxed and the sexuality could have been more explicit. For Kenneth Tynan, Emily "failed to get to first base" in his realm of eroticism.[1] The historian Simon Sebag Montefiore went to see the film while at school, expecting a skin flick, thanks to sensational press coverage, and later described it as "one of the biggest disappointments of my adolescence".[12]

The Variety review was a little kinder: "Story set in England in 1928 deals with teenage Emily returning from finishing school and her subsequent sexual awakening. It is sufficiently well told to sustain screen interest throughout although the acting performance of the cast is collectively unimpressive. Director Henry Herbert lacks consistency, but given the modest budget has put a lot on the screen. Rod McKuen's music score is incongruous at times and never outstanding. A first-time effort for producer Christopher Neame (son of Ronald), this Brent Walker release is a classier than normal British-made entry with highly effective camera work by Jack Hildyard. It has good international playoff potential in selected situations with some strong built in exploitation angles, notably topliner Koo Stark, who will look good on posters, front of house stills, etc."[9]

The Motion Picture Guide (1986) commented "Rod McKuen contributes a typically wretched soundtrack".[13]

In their book Great Houses of England & Wales (1994), Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd and Christopher Simon Sykes later wrote "The present Lord Pembroke is (as Henry Herbert) a film and television director, best known for the Civil War drama series By the Sword Divided and for Emily, starring Miss Koo Stark."[14]


The film's leading lady, Koo Stark, suffered in later years from press misrepresentation. In a libel action in 2007, she won an apology and substantial damages from Zoo Weekly, which had described her as a porn star. She commented "I am relieved that my name has been cleared of this false, highly damaging and serious allegation."[15]




In 1983, the film was rejected by the British Board of Film Classification because of a scene showing two women together in a shower.[16]


  1. Christopher Neame, A Take on British TV Drama: Stories from the Golden Years (Scarecrow Press, 2004), p. xiv-xv
  2. Arts and Culture, Volume 2 (2016), p. 74
  3. Christopher Neame, Rungs on a Ladder: Hammer Films Seen Through a Soft Gauze (2003), p. 122
  4. Harris M. Lentz III, ed., Obituaries in the Performing Arts, 2003, p. 188
  5. Denis Gifford, British Film Catalogue: Two Volume Set - The Fiction Film/The Non-Fiction Film
  6. Films and Filming Volume 20 (1973), p. 6
  7. Mike Kaplan, Variety international showbusiness reference (1982), p. 388
  8. Harris M. Lentz, Science Fiction, Horror & Fantasy Film and Television Credits (2001), p. 915
  9. 'Emily', in Variety's Film Reviews: 1975-1977, volume 14 of series (R. R. Bowker, 1989)
  10. Jim Craddock, VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever: 2002 (2001), p. 238
  11. I. Q. Hunter, Cult Film as a Guide to Life: Fandom, Adaptation, and Identity (2016), p. 99
  12. Rebecca Hardy, Homeless and broke - Koo's Stark life dated 17 October 2008, accessed 19 November 2017
  13. The Motion Picture Guide, Volume 3 (1986), p. 760
  14. Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd, Christopher Simon Sykes, Great Houses of England & Wales (1994), p. 131
  15. Koo Stark news release at carter-ruck.com, accessed 12 November 2017
  16. Ursula Smartt, Media & Entertainment Law (2017), p. 249
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