The Queen of Versailles
Documentary on billionaires Jackie and David Siegel is surprisingly insightful
On the subject of money, Charles Dickens wrote: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.” It’s a maxim proved true by this fascinating film. The Queen of the title is Jackie Siegel, third wife of time-share billionaire David Siegel and mother of seven of his children. The film was intended to be a documentary following the construction of the couple’s dream project: to build the biggest house in America, inspired by the Palace of Versailles, because, as David puts it, ‘we could’. In actuality, the film tracks what happened to that project, and the Siegels’ seemingly untouchable lifestyle, when the recent financial crisis blew a massive hole in their multi-billion dollar business.
This is not primarily a film with a moral lesson, nor is it an inappropriate sympathy plea on behalf of one of the richest families in the world. Director Lauren Greenfield’s perspective is at once less focused and more interesting than that. At times the film feels aimless and inconclusive, but Greenfield’s open-minded and observational approach yields compelling details from every scene. There are moments when we are invited to laugh, particularly at Jackie’s filthy-rich disconnect with reality – a scene where she expects to be given a chauffeur at a Hertz car hire is the kind of painful rich-folk satire dreamt up by the writers of Arrested Development. But there’s more going on here; so much of what we see in this film shows the limits of money, and that even the richest of the rich are at the whim of their bankers. The film ends with David determined to bounce back, but you suspect he still doesn’t get where real value lies.
Selected release from Fri 7 Sep.