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 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.
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