Professor Melanie Bell

Professor Melanie Bell


I am a prize-winning scholar of British Film Studies and Feminist Film History. My research analyses the economic and creative contribution of women to film production through a feminist lens, opening up questions of collaboration, authorship and value. I work with oral histories, archival records and screen “ephemera” to amplify marginal voices in film history, and examine the legacies of past experiences of work for the challenges facing today’s media workers.

I am currently leading a major, three-year study – ‘Film Costumes in Action: Design, Production and Performance Cultures in British Film, 1965-2015’ – which investigates costume design and making for British Film (1965-2015). Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, this project works in partnership with the British Film Institute (Dr Claire Smith), Professor Sarah Street (Bristol) and Dr Alice Sage (Leeds).  As part of our study we’re interviewing costume designers and a multitude of talented makers including cutters, seamstresses, wardrobe supervisors, breakdown artists and many others. We’re hosting workshops to bring together costume practitioners and academics with costume curators and archivists, organising a wikithon to write “forgotten” designers and makers into film history, and developing a major film season at the BFI showcasing costume for film. 

You can find out more here:

And follow us on X @Film_Costume

My last publication Movie Workers: The Women Who Made British Cinema (University of Illinois Press, 2021) was the first, systematic study of the thousands of women who worked in the British film industry from the 1930s to the 1980s. Drawing on extensive archival research this revelatory study reveals the full extent of women’s contribution to British film production. With case studies of wardrobe assistants, paint and trace ‘girls’, production secretaries, editors, and matte artists amongst many other roles, this book brings their ‘hidden histories’ into view for the first time in a scholarly and engaging way. 

Movie Workers won the ‘Best Monograph Prize’ awarded by the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies (BAFTSS) in 2022, and the “Richard Wall Memorial Award Special Jury Prize 2021”, awarded in 2022 by the American Theatre Library Association.

I have also published a study of Gordon Conway, a leading costume designer in Britain’s film studios in the 1930s. This study recovers not only Conway’s labour but the extensive networks and making cultures in Mayfair through which costumes for British films were produced. You can read about this research in the film journal Screen ~ Melanie Bell, ‘Feminist Histories of Costuming Film: Gordon Conway, 1930s British Cinema and the collaborative world of Mayfair sewing’, Screen, vol 64, issue 2, pp. 1-29.


  • Deputy Director, Leeds Arts and Humanities Institute (LAHRI)

Research interests

Gender and Film;

Women's Film Culture;

Costume design and making for Film and Television;

Archiving Women's Film Culture;

Feminist Methods;

Oral History; Life-Story Interviews.

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PhD; MA; BA

Professional memberships

  • Royal Historical Society
  • The Costume Society
  • Women's Film and Television History Network
  • British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies

Student education

I contribute to the school's teaching in feminist media studies and film and cinema histories.

Research groups and institutes

  • Leeds Arts and Humanities Research Institute

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>