National Gallery, film review: Fascinating documentary takes us to the heart of a thriving museum

(12A) Frederick Wiseman, 181 mins
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The Independent Culture

Frederick Wiseman's fascinating and uplifting documentary takes us into the heart of London's National Gallery, showing us everything from the painstaking work of frame-makers to heated boardroom meetings and even dance performances.

Much about the film is inspiring. You can't help but admire the enthusiasm of the guides who talk about the collection with such passion. Their audiences range from OAPs to school kids, tourists and journalists. One woman bluntly tells some startled teenagers that the Gallery was founded "on slavery". John Julius Angerstein, who provided "the nucleus of the collection," worked for Lloyds, "insurers of slave boats".

Some of the time, Wiseman gives viewers the sense that they are inside the gallery alongside other visitors. At other points, his camera scrutinises the faces of museum-goers with the same fascination that the artists whose work hangs in the gallery treated their subjects. The overall impression he gives is of a museum that is thriving in spite of continuing questions over its funding and identity.