Influence, the story of Lord Timothy Bell and his hugely powerful, extremely controversial PR company Bell Pottinger, often feels more like the origin story for a Bond villain than an investigative documentary. Based around a series of 2018 interviews with Bell, a year before he passed away, Dianne Neille and Richard Poplak trace his journey through the advertising and PR world and into political campaigns, charting his rapidly expanding global sphere of power.

Until the collapse of Bell Pottinger in 2017 because of their involvement in Jacob Zuma’s South African government, Bell was a terrifying puppet master who had orchestrated Margaret Thatcher’s political campaigns, met with the notorious Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, worked for Russian oligarchs, and even played a role in the Iraq War for the US government. His approach to assignments was overwhelmingly aggressive, characterised by his frequent attacks on the Labour party while working for Thatcher.

It’s a beast of a story and Neille and Poplak sometimes struggle to tie together the many different threads of Bell’s string of high-profile scandals, but its exploration of how one man can become so obsessed with power is riveting, and one packed with a whole avalanche of shocking stories and anecdotes relayed by a number of powerful talking heads. Often the most remarkable aspect is Bell’s shocking openness and unflinching honesty about his scandalous career in the film’s interviews. Considering that he would die only a year later, it appears that this once all-powerful, oft-hated figure had begun to finally run out of steam.

In a Newsnight interview with Jeremy Paxman in 2012, Bell was asked if he’d refused clients on moral grounds. Bell replied, “I’m not a priest.” It is this disturbingly unapologetic attitude that makes Influence a compelling and shocking portrait that speaks volumes about global corruption and our susceptibility to manipulation.



CAST: Timothy Bell, Ron Leagas, Nigel Oakes, Marianne Thamm

DIRECTORS: Diana Neille, Richard Poplak

WRITERS: Diana Neille, Richard Poplak

SYNOPSIS: The story of Lord Timothy Bell and his highly controversial journey from the advertising world to political campaigns and global corruption.