Sylvia Kristel: Actress who became typecast by her role in the erotic classic 'Emmanuelle'

 

When she auditioned for the part of Emmanuelle, a young diplomat's wife who embarks on a series of ever more daring sexual adventures during a trip to Thailand, the Dutch actress Sylvia Kristel didn't expect the eponymous erotic film directed by Just Jaeckin to ever get finished or be passed by censors in France or anywhere else.

Based on a supposedly autobiographical novel credited to Emmanuelle Arsan, but in fact penned by real-life diplomat Louis-Jacques Rollet-Andriane, Emmanuelle became a box-office sensation in France during the summer of 1974.

It made soft porn fashionable there, a year before Deep Throat reached French screens, and played at the same cinema on the Champs-Elysées in Paris for over a decade, while the poster featuring Kristel reclining on a wicker chair in a state of undress, toying suggestively with a string of pearls around her neck, adorned bachelor bedroom walls. Emmanuelle fever spread across continental Europe and reached the US and Japan, too. In Britain a censored version was screened on a double bill with the local comedy Percy's Progress, featuring the "continental" charms of Elke Sommer and Julie Ege.

Even though Emmanuelle was eventually seen by 300 million cinema-goers, and the same number have caught up with it since on video, DVD and TV channels around the world, Kristel only received the Fr18,000 – then equivalent to $6,000 – fee originally agreed. However, her contract included an option for two follow-ups, which she duly appeared in, upping her fee to $100,000 for Emmanuelle II in 1975, and she participated in several more well into the 1990s.

She found herself typecast in roles such as Lady Constance Chatterley, in the 1981 adaptation of Lady Chatterley's Lover, also helmed by Jaeckin, and Mata Hari, the 1985 film directed by Curtis Harrington. And, while based in Hollywood, she took bad financial decisions as she battled alcohol and cocaine addictions. In 1981, she played a foreign maid who seduces a teenage boy in Private Lessons, but sold her interest in the film to her agent for $150,000, and lost out on a windfall when it went on to gross over $26 million at the US box-office.

She remained a source of fascination for many, and was the subject of several TV documentaries, including Emmanuelle: A Hard Look, directed by Alex Cox for Channel 4 in 2000, which examined the cultural and social impact of the franchise. "Whenever my finances are low, I agree to appear on TV shows in Germany or Japan. And that keeps the wolf from the door for a few months. I don't need much to live on anyway," she said in 2004, two years before she published her autobiography Undressing Emmanuelle: A Memoir.

The eldest of three children, she was born in 1952 to parents who ran a hotel in Utrecht and seemed to rely on alcohol to smooth things over, until her father left for another woman and kicked the family out. "It was as if we were staff and he had dismissed us," she told The Independent in 2007. After leaving school, she worked as a waitress and a secretary but was noticed by a photographer and became a model. She won Miss TV Holland and was then crowned Miss TV Europe at a London ceremony presented by Katie Boyle. She appeared in a couple of films in her native Holland and auditioned for the French actor-turned-producer Jacques Charrier – Brigitte Bardot's ex-husband – with whom she had a brief liaison before returning to Amsterdam, where Jaeckin noticed her in 1972.

Her daring audition for Emmanuelle was rather out of character. "It was weird, because I am actually quite prudish," she recalled, but found herself slipping the dress straps off her shoulders and baring her breasts. "It's always humiliating to be asked to strip so I chose to take the initiative."

Following Emmanuelle, a breakthrough that turned into something of a dead-end, she lost out to Jessica Lange for the part of Dwan in the King-Kong remake produced by Dino De Laurentiis, and had a child with the Belgian author Hugo Claus, who was 23 years her senior. The relationship floundered after she met Ian McShane while making The Fifth Musketeer (directed by Ken Annakin in 1979), and moved to California with the British actor. She appeared in The Concorde ... Airport '79 disaster movie and the Get Smart update The Nude Bomb (1980) but split from McShane after five years. "He was witty and charming but we were too much alike," she wrote in her autobiography.

Kristel was forthright about her cocaine use. She thought it was "a supervitamin, a very fashionable substance, without danger, but expensive, far more exciting than drowning in alcohol, a fuel necessary to stay in the swing," yet quit after a conversation with her Los Angeles accountant. "He basically told me: 'You can continue with this nonsense and lose your house or have a healthy lifestyle and keep your house'. That was an easy choice to make," she reflected.

She returned to Europe, settling in Saint-Tropez then moving to Amsterdam in reduced circumstances. "I said yes too may times, I don't know why, maybe out of laziness," she said of her continued involvement with the Emmanuelle franchise, which concluded with Emmanuelle Au 7ème Ciel (Emmanuelle in 7th Heaven) in the mid-1990s, but the statement might as well have applied to her two brief marriages to an American businessman, and to the film producer Philippe Blot, whose debts she helped to pay off with appearances in the road movie The Arrogant, and Dracula's Widow.

Kristel found a greater degree of happiness with the Belgian poet and critic Freddy De Vree, but he died in 2004. A heavy smoker, she was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2001, and suffered a stroke in June. Reflecting on Emmanuelle in 2007, she thought the film "was charming. Very innocent. I was struck by how young I looked at the time but I thought I was so adult, that I knew it all and I was going to conquer the world."

Pierre Perrone

Sylvia Kristel, actress: born Utrecht, Netherlands 28 September 1952; one son with Hugo Claus; twice married (marriages dissolved); died Amsterdam 17 October 2012.

Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
people'When I see people who look totally different, it brings me back to that time in my life'
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
news
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
A photograph taken by David Redferm of Sonny Rollins
people
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Extras
indybest
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker