The Queen of Versailles is a documentary about the Siegel family, particularly husband and wife Jackie and David Seigel.
David founded and is CEO of Westgate Homes, the world’s largest timeshare company which made him a billionaire. His wife Jackie is a former Miss USA who is thirty years his junior, and together they have three biological children plus Jackie’s niece.
I first took interest in this film having seen it on a ‘Documentaries That Didn’t Turn Out How They Were Intended’ list. The film sets out to follow David and Jackie as they build ‘Versailles’, which will be the largest residential home in the US. The family and business are however greatly affected by the 2008 economic crash, so the second half of the film follows the family as they cope with downsizing and staying afloat in stark contrast to the first half’s excess.
The first half of the film could probably be compared to ‘Real Housewives’ or ‘The Kardashians’ in which viewers would be gained out of morbid curiosity and the desire of social emulation. The size of the house that they are building is incomprehensible, I certainly wouldn’t know what to do with that amount of space, and they were to include a bowling alley, a baseball field, a roller/ice rink and thirty bathrooms, among other things. Finished, it would have been worth $100,000,000. You also get to meet the family who mostly seem to be spoiled – apart from the niece who previously lived on the streets, teaching the other children an important lesson about what they have.
The first half also follows Westgate Resorts during its boom years as it turns over millions per year by getting people suckered into the timeshare pitch. The sales force are peppy and happy, and the clients buy into the luxury that they are shown in the apartments.
“If you can’t be rich, you want to feel rich. And if you don’t want to feel rich, you’re dead.” – David Siegel.
The second half starkly contrasts to the first. The financial crash really hits real estate, and Westgate has $1.2billion tied up in bank mortgages and loans. Construction on Versailles is stopped. The Westgate – and Siegel’s personal – workforce is drastically cut. Westgate Resorts are at a minimal capacity with the banks threatening foreclosure and not allowing Westgate to sell any more units.
For the family, Jackie continues spending in denial while the house becomes increasingly dirty and unloved: the skeleton staff can’t cope with the size of the house and scale of the mess being created by the number of people living in it. In one passage, a pet lizard dies. In another, David has an argument with his family about wasting electricity – a far cry from the thousands that used to be spent willy nilly in their financial peak.
Interviews with Jackie and David individually shows how un-united this couple were and how wildly different their lives were from each other. Jackie had no idea about the extent of David’s financial troubles, for instance.
Other parts of the film followed David’s son from another marriage who also worked for Westgate as he struggled with their downsizing, and a short biography of Jackie’s life is given. It also interviews some of the housekeepers and nannies which again gives contrast to the lives that the Siegel’s live.
However much empathy you have for them at points, you are also taken over by how ridiculous and excessive they are, such as when Jackie takes a limo to McDonalds.
This is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen. It is by far the best documentary I have seen about the recession as it shows the impact that it had on all of us (I have seen a lot about lower classes but to see how it affected the rich is very interesting. Call it schadenfreude) and the way that it has changed our attitudes. I was talking to my friend the other day about how Sex and the City has aged horribly post-recession due to our changing ideas about excess and want.
The film-makers may have lucked into the story of the final film, but they showcased the material enviably.
9.5/10 – Watch it now