Most people would probably manage to just about survive the ignominy of living in a 26,000 square foot home with seventeen (count ’em) bathrooms. The fact that the infamous Siegel family were “busting out of the seams” in theirs was part of the reason that photographer and documentary filmmaker Lauren Greenfield will have decided to focus upon them so closely and brilliantly. The resulting film, The Queen of Versailles (2012), is a wickedly funny look at the obscenity of extreme wealth that morphs, through the coincidental arrival of the economic recession, into something ever more engrossing.
Jacqueline Siegel (the Queen in question) is a degree-educated former Miss America married to the vastly wealthy property magnate David. They live in Florida, with eight children, in the aforementioned house, but are currently half way through the build of America’s largest family home – a whopping 90,000 square feet – modelled on the Palace of Versailles and a Vegas hotel. Just as the audience may sit agog at the vulgarity of the venture, things take an unexpected turn.
David Siegel is responsible the king of timeshare companies. Westgate Timeshare have resorts all over America and have made their founder a very wealthy man. He is used to heavily influencing Presidential elections and throwing lavish dinner parties. When the recession hits and people stop buying timeshares, things get a lot tougher. Thousands of jobs are lost at David’s company and the man who previously claims to have made better the lives of everyone who knows him, now seems to be sat atop a crumbling empire.
The unexpected turn of events transform a peer behind the curtain at the enormously wealthy family into something altogether more affecting. The Siegel’s marriage is hitting it’s most difficult spell as the family must try to curb their spending (which they don’t). While David becomes ever more unlikeable and grotesque, Jackie comes across and gracious and endlessly entertaining. Whilst never losing sight of the farcical nature of their lives, it is a riveting look at the affects of economic collapse and, in a strange way, becomes quite moving.
Offering up no resolution, and with the husk of a palace still sitting empty, The Queen of Versailles shows just what life can be like when you have too much money. The kids are spoilt, pets are left to die – “I didn’t know we had a lizard” – and they still manage a corpulent Christmas. At the same time, however, it makes for an enthralling and moving look at the recession, at a struggling marriage and at a woman keeping calm under the pressure.
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