The Queen of Versailles
Director: Lauren Greenfield
Synopsis: A documentary that follows a billionaire couple as they begin construction on a mansion inspired by The Palace of Versailles.
Overview: The Queen of Versailles starts as one thing, but it quickly becomes another halfway through, and the same could be said about the film’s subjects.
At first, we are watching a movie about wealth and excess. Jackie and David Siegel are crazy rich from David’s timeshare empire. They have a huge house, eight kids, tons of staff, more pets than they realise, sway, influence, famous friends, and a very special building project. The project is to build the biggest mansion that America has ever seen. It is based upon the palace of Versailles and is 90,000 square feet. When completed, it will have 11 kitchens, 13 bedrooms, 30 bathrooms, a bowling alley, a roller rink, five pools, a video arcade and so on and so on. The movie we have started watching is all about the building of this incredible dream home. And we love this stuff. If reality TV has taught us anything, it’s that we like to watch the inner workings of the rich and famous. There are people who are household names simply because they are rich and on TV. For better or worse this is the world we live in, and watching wealthy people be wealthy is hugely popular. For some it is so that they can idolize the rich people’s lifestyle, and for others it is to hate-watch. In either case, this movie is really going to ring your bells.
Case in point, halfway through the movie, after we have seen the lavish semi-built mansion and watched the Siegels schmooze with celebrities and seen the inner workings of their patriarch’s timeshare business, the Global Financial Crisis of 2012 happens. Suddenly we’re not watching a movie about rich people building an outlandish cartoon of a house. We’re watching rich people try to figure out how to keep the lights on.
Overall, it’s fascinating to watch the couple at the centre of the movie and their reaction to the loss of their wealth. David begins the movie sat on a golden throne with his beautiful wife and the world at his feet. By the end he is sat in a TV room full of papers bitterly complaining about the electricity bill. Jackie, on the other hand, begins the movie as an adoring wife and mother who has everything she ever wanted and ends the movie a better person. Going into this movie it’s easy to expect to see her fall apart without her riches but instead she starts charities, helps old friends, and tries to keep the family unit together while their pets are dying left and right and there’s dog shit everywhere.
The movie also has some scenes focusing upon the lives of the Siegels’ hired help, and their struggles coming to America and building a life there. Mixed with the machinations of David to keep his fortune and Jackie’s vain attempts to keep life the same as it ever was, this movie is a fantastic look at the effects of the crisis and how people big and small were hurt by it.