The Queen Of Versailles

The Queen Of Versailles

*****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Queen Of Versailles introduces us to David and Jackie Siegel while they're living so high on the hog the air must be thin.

Despite the fact that Jackie is the epitome of a 'trophy wife', with her pneumatic chest, skin-tight clothing, 30-year age difference between her and David and unwillingness to do very much except 'smile and wave', Greenfield quickly and cleverly shows us there is more to her. This is a woman who got herself a computer engineering qualification and who, you sense, might very well be able to play an active role in her husband's business if he treated her as less of an ornament.

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Siegel, for those not in the know, is often referred to as the 'timeshare king' - selling the dream of a week's privilege to middle America, which his son tells their salesmen is a life-saving occupation - "You're just like a doctor, policeman...", he insists. David also filed a defamation lawsuit against the Sundance Film Festival for describing his tale as "rags to riches to rags". It's a move that demonstrates a typical lack of self-awareness, given that he uses virtually the same phrase himself towards the end of the film's runtime. It also, interestingly, didn't stop Jackie turning up to pose for photos (it appears to be something of an obsession for her if the film is to be believed) before - bravely, or foolishly, depending on your viewpoint, watching the film for the very first time, along with a full house of strangers.

But, back to the movie. Not content with their 26,000 sq ft of floorspace mansion, which Jackie claims is "bursting at the seams" thanks to her eight kids and 25 staff - whose own story holds a tragedy of its own - the pair hatch a master plan to build their very own Palace Of Versailles (pronounced Versiiiize by everyone interviewed here). If their current home is baroque beyond belief - featuring artwork that is designed to portray them as almost godlike - the new house promises to take over-ornamentation to fresh new levels. But, when it is little more than a shell, the mortgage crisis hits and Siegel finds himself so overextended his bankers are threatening to foreclose.

While in some ways the collapsing of the Siegels' wealth may seem like commeuppance for their excessiveness, Greenfield has painted such a human portrait that Jackie, in particular, remains sympathetic, even when she is adding to her own tragedy. Her lack of self-awareness is often hilarious but sometimes so all-encompasing that it almost hurts to watch. For example, in a moment that illustrates her compulsive spending, she purchases identical boardgames for all eight kids and bicycles which are carried, with woeful looks from the staff, into a garage that is little more than a cycle graveyard, with too many to count, stacked against one another. But while you marvel at her ability to see nothing odd about stuffing her dead pets - the dog that got run over is now reduced to a disturbing fur rug - or about spending a fortune on things she doesn't need, Greenfield also shows us that she has a wide streak of generosity, doing everythinng she can to help an old friend with money worries of her own.

Greenfield also finds time to touch on the more familiar tragedies of others who come into the Siegels' orbit, from their down-on-his luck chauffeur to the deeply upsetting stories of their maids and nannies, many of whom have had to leave their own children in the Phillippines in order to come to the US to make cash to send home. It is this broadening out of the story to show not just the big picture but the smaller waves of suffering caused by the bank crash, that elevate Greenfield's film into something quite special that deserves to reach a wide audience.

Reviewed on: 24 Apr 2012
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The Queen Of Versailles packshot
Snapshot of the effect of the mortgage crisis on billionnaire 'Timeshare King' David Siegel and his family.
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Director: Lauren Greenfield

Year: 2012

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

Festivals:

Sundance 2012

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