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The Queen of Versailles

The Queen of Versailles

Released 7 September 2012
Director Lauren Greenfield

Virginia Nebab, Jackie Siegel, David Siegel

Lauren Greenfield, Danielle Renfrew
Origin United States, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Denmark
Running Time 104 minutes
Genre Documentary
Rating TBC

A palace built on sand.

Timing is everything. When director Lauren Greenfield began work on the film that would become The Queen of Versailles in 2007, her aim was to follow one of the wealthiest families in America build an astonishing residence that, when completed, would be the largest private home in the United States. Nobody could have foreseen what was about to happen when the following year the economy hit the skids and the family in question found their dream home and their dream life slipping away from them. The resulting film is undoubtedly a much richer and more complex affair than it would originally have been.

The family in question is that of David and Jackie Siegel. David is a time-share mogul, while Jackie is a former model and now stay-at-home mother of seven children (albeit with considerable help from her troupe of domestic staff). After a visit to Paris, the couple decided to replicate the Versailles palace in Florida. Jackie describes how their initial plans spiralled out of control to the tune of a staggering 90,000 square feet. After the crash though, the house was a great white elephant as the Siegel empire began to dramatically fall apart.

Given the grotesque displays of wealth the family is so fond of (and David’s proud claim that he was personally responsible for the election of George W. Bush), it’s hard at first not to experience a rush of schadenfreude at the Siegel’s economic woes. But it’s not as simple as that. Both Jackie and David are self-made and on one level, all they are guilty of is becoming carried away with the American Dream. Greenfield is also keen to show how the collapse of this business empire not only effected the people at the top but also those at the bottom. She continually returns to the newly empty cubicles and conference rooms that once bustled with sales staff earning their daily wage.

It’s not the most visually dynamic or cinematic of documentaries but it is funny, moving and gives a view of the crash from inside the lives of its richest casualties. A timely and insightful watch.

- Linda O’Brien