Melanie Bell

Academic, historian, writer.


Julie Christie and Julie Andrews at the Oscars, 1966

By Dr Melanie Bell

Associate Professor of Film

University of Leeds

This book is a longitudinal study of women and their work in the British film industry in the six decades between 1933 and 1989, and provides a much-needed examination of the range, complexity and diversity of the work performed by women in the decades following the introduction of sound.

During these years the film industry was a closed shop and employment was tightly regulated by the union, the Association of Cine-Technicians (ACT). Mapping women’s work by decade, and in different work sectors (Features, Shorts, Cartoons), this book examines women’s economic and creative contribution to film production in the many below-the-line roles in which they were typically employed.

The book uses ACT trade union records to sketch a diachronic map of the range and breadth of women’s work in this sixty year period, and oral history testimony to examine synchronically the concrete reality of women’s labour at particular historical junctures. It also situates their work in the wider context of both changing social expectations around women and gender roles and technical developments within the film industry.

Challenging received wisdom that women, after the pioneering days of early cinema, contributed little of substance to film production until the feminist developments of the 1970s, this book examines how women continued to work in the industry in significant numbers and collectively made a substantial economic and creative contribution to British film production which has hitherto gone unrecognised. It argues that bringing their work into view highlights new lines of inquiry into the relations between women and cultural production, asks us to reflect on issues of gender, creativity, and agency, and from that follow fundamental questions about how we write film history.


Movie Workers: The Women Who Made British Cinema

(University of Illinois Press, 2021)

Julie Christie: Stardom and Creative Agency

Combining archival research (film scripts, publicity materials, press packs, correspondence, memoirs), interview material and textual analysis, this monograph is situated at the interface between star studies, organisational studies and feminist film historiography. It understands acting as work, and conceptualises Christie as a social subject, performing a job within a labour system. It asks how that process has been informed by the actor’s feminism, and addresses wider questions about the relationship between women, cultural production and the political economy of film.

Femininity in the Frame: Women and 1950s British Popular Cinema 
(I B Tauris, 2010, ‘Cinema and Society’ series) 

Combines textual analysis with archival research conducted at the British Film Institute Library and BBC Caversham (film & radio scripts, publicity materials, reviews and correspondence) to examine the extent to which popular film engaged with emergent forms of femininity, arguing that a proto-feminist structure of feeling emerged in the work of key directors, writers and stars.

Edited Collections

Ball, V. and Melanie Bell (eds), ‘Working Women, Women’s Work: Production, History, Gender’. Special Edition for Journal of British Cinema and Television, Vol. 10.3: 2013 (including ‘Introduction’, pp. 547-562).

Bell, Melanie and Melanie Williams (eds), British Women’s Cinema. (London: Routledge, 2010), inc. ‘Introduction: The hour of the cuckoo: reclaiming the British woman’s film’ (pp. 1-18).

Journal Articles and Chapters

Bell, Melanie. ‘Learning to Listen: Histories of Women’s Soundwork in the British Film Industry’. Screen (forthcoming, Dec. 2017).

Bell, Melanie. ‘Young, Single, Disillusioned: The Screen Heroine in 1960s British Cinema’. The Yearbook of English Studies, British Literature of the 1960s, Ed. Tracey Hargreaves and Alice Ferrebe. MHRA, 42:2, July 2012 (pp. 79-96).

Bell, Melanie. ‘Feminism and Women’s Film Criticism in Post-war Britain: 1945-59’, Feminist Media Studies. 11: 4, Dec. 2011, pp. 399-416.

Film Criticism as "Women's Work'
Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television

*Bell, Melanie. *‘Film Criticism as “Women’s Work”: the Gendered Economy of Film Criticism in Britain, 1945-65’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. 31: 2, June 2011, pp. 191-209.

- *David H. Culbert Prize for Best Article by an Established Scholar, 2011, awarded by the International Association for Media and History.

- *British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies (BAFTSS) Prize for Best Article in a Refereed Journal, 2011.

Some of Britain’s Leading Film Critics of the 1950s including Catherine de la Roche, Elspeth Grant, C A Lejeune and Dilys Powell

Bell, Melanie. ‘Quality, Cinema and the “Superior Woman” persona: Understanding Woman’s Film Criticism in Post-war Britain’, Women's History Review. 19: 5, November 2010, pp. 703-719.

Bell, Melanie. “A Prize Collection of Familiar Feminine Types”: the female group film in 1950s British cinema’, in Bell & Williams (eds.), British Women’s Cinema.(2010). pp. 94-110.

Bell, Melanie. ‘Fatal Femininity in post-war British film: investigating the British femme’, in Helen Hanson and Catherine O’Rawe (eds.), The Femme Fatale: Images, Histories, Contexts. (Hampshire: Palgrave, 2010). pp. 98-112.

Bell, Melanie. ‘50 Years of Screen, 1959-2009’. Journal of British Cinema and Television, 7: 3, 2010, pp. 479-485.

Bell, Melanie. ‘Gender and Modernity in post-war British Cinema: A case study of Young Wives’ Tale’ (1951), Women's History Review, 16: 2, April 2007, pp. 227-243.

Bell, Melanie (as ‘Bell-Williams’), ‘“Shop-soiled women”: Female Sexuality and the Figure of the Prostitute in 1950s British Cinema’, Journal of British Cinema and Television, Vol. 3.2: 2006, pp.266-283.

© Melanie Bell

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