The Queen of Versailles

Although its title is attractive enough, this 2012 documentary by Lauren Greenfield could also have been called “Back To Reality.”

Jacqueline and David Siegel are wealthy Floridians who are parents to eight children. She is 43 years old, he is 74. They both come from middle class backgrounds. David is the founder and owner of Westgate Resorts, the biggest time-sharing company in the world. Jacqueline is a housewife, ex-model and former Mrs. Florida. They live in a mansion with 30 bathrooms, but they want to build a newer and better house modeled after the Versailles Palace in France. Their goal is to make it the biggest house in America. Already under construction, its amenities will include an ice skating arena, a bowling alley, a sushi bar…and the list goes on.

David boasts of being “personally responsible” for electing former President George W. Bush, but he can’t go into details since “this is probably illegal”, he admits at the beginning of this sobering story. Ironically, it’s under that administration that the 2008 market meltdown occurs and the Siegels’ world begins to change. First, David is sued by the company that built the symbolic and treasured PH Westgate Towers in Las Vegas for failing to pay. Then, he has to lay off thousands of his employees and begins selling his planes, ranches, and boats while struggling to hold onto his dream of building the palace whose construction has already stopped.

When Murphy’s Law hits you and you are all the way up on top of the world, what do you do? Brace yourself for the fall and try to “survive”. One of the ways Jacqueline finds is to fly commercial with all her kids when visiting her hometown. She also rents a car (while asking the perplexed agent if a driver is included with the vehicle), and later in the year, she Christmas shop at Walmart, this scene being one of the most poignant of the documentary when Jacqueline is filling several carts with toys and gifts that could barely fit in their vehicles later.

Contrasting with their predicament and parallel to it, there’s Jacqueline’s best friend story, the nanny’s and the family driver’s who are all trying to cope with the same harsh realities on a minor scale by adapting to the changes.

This is a cautionary tale for everyone who erroneously believes the American dream to be one of wealth and of living beyond one’s means. The toll the Siegels are paying to live in a mansion goes beyond money. Their story must serve us as a mirror to look at ourselves and ask us how are we like or unlike them. If we are honest enough, me might surprise ourselves.

See also by director Lauren Greefield: Generation Wealth (2018), Thin (2016).

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