The Queen of Versailles.

David Siegel was a billionaire. He was, that is, until the banks collapsed. In the space of two years Siegel went from being one of the richest men in America to putting his houses on the market, selling his private jet and taking his children out of private schools. His trophy wife, Jackie, is suddenly forced to shop at Walmart. The Queen of Versailles tells two stories. The first section of the documentary looks at the wealthy and diamond dripping luxury of the Siegel family. Jackie leads us around what is soon to be the biggest house in America – in construction at the time. When the recession hit America thinks turned sour for Siegel and his business. His resort company, rooted in time shares, was hit hard. The second part of the film looks at the family’s transition to reality, during their financial struggles, and David’s ongoing fight to rescue his business empire. Whilst the unfinished mansion sits on the housing market for $75 million, Jackie and David’s current house, filled with their 8 children plus the numerous nannies and domestic helpers, grows dirtier and more chaotic. Tension and stress mounts up along with the piles of dog poo on the designer carpets, coming from the countless fluffy white dogs that run around all day long.

The Queen of Versailles deals with lots of different things. Firstly, of course it is entertaining to watch the stupidly rich fly in economy. In one particularly amusing scene, Jackie asks “What’s the name of my driver?” when booking a rented car. Secondly, these people are honest. You might not like what they say, especially in regards to David who openly claims to have used his money to illegally get Bush into the Presidential position, but their honesty reveals a lot and shows how much the film crew were trusted with this family’s ‘riches to rags’ experience. When David states openly that having a wife was like having another child, and that his marriage provides no support, you couldn’t help but be stunned; shocked at just how sad that fact is but ultimately startled by such ugly honesty. Jackie is an endearing character. Her humble beginnings seem to come back to strengthen her during the family trips to Walmart. Despite being sickened by how many shoes, bags and ostrich feather trousers she owns there was something truthful about her. She is clearly a trophy wife. Several times, Jackie seems to feel the need to mention how good her husband is in bed – a 74 year old workaholic who is three decades her senior. This former ‘Mrs Florida’ approaches everything with a charming positivity. Despite her exterior fakery and obscene priorities, (apparently, in times of financial hardship, you can rip your children from their school and friendship groups but Botox remains a necessity) it is possible to see the good in Jackie. As comical as it is to see her push a shopping trolley to her car, she is a very vivid example of just how surreal a life of wealth and fortune can be.

The most interesting thing about The Queen of the Versailles is the children. In one scene Jackie turns to her son and asks him, somewhat rhetorically, “how was it flying in coach?!”. Her son, in response, simply shrugs. This affected me more than anything else in the film and I’m not even sure the director meant it to be any kind of emotional trigger. This child, one of the eight, seemed like one of the youngest, perhaps still more concerned with simply being a child rather than having the latest ‘everything’, like his older sisters. Their mother claims that once she knew she could have a nanny she didn’t want to stop having children, because they are bundles of joy. Having a mother who loves you but doesn’t nurture you and a father who neglects family time and the joy of the here and now must be the most surreal thing of all. I felt concerned for these children, being brought up to expect so much, materialistically, but experiencing so little in terms of a normal childhood. The Siegel’s half-made mansion was impressive but I didn’t see many trees around. Sometimes a kid just needs to climb a tree.

Thanks for reading and let’s all keep supporting our beloved film industry.

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