Sundance London: The Queen of Versailles

by Mike Richardson on 30/04/2012

A million miles, or (more precisely) several billion dollars away from the poverty of the families in Finding North we had The Queen of Versailles, a documentary about David and Jackie Siegel and their brood, a billionaire family (mega rich thanks to David’s timeshare business) who were dissatisfied with their existing mansion and decided to build the largest family home in America instead. Their dream home was to be a 90,000 ft.² mansion inspired by France’s legendary Versailles Palace.

This film began with the cash rich / taste poor Siegel family revelling in their wealth. And 20 minutes in I was concerned that I was just watching an audition tape for the next reality TV show similar to that of the Osbornes or the Kardashians. David Siegel was a typically unattractive self-made businessman and his wife looked to be as shallow and vacuous as her breasts were false and ridiculous.

But the film took a huge turn and showed why it won the 2012 Sundance Film Festival U.S. Directing Award: Documentary, when the family ( David, Jackie , their 8 children, the 19 staff, the four dogs, the five cats, the reptiles and the peacocks (yes, peacocks) went from billionaires to “not billionaires” almost overnight, when the grow global financial crisis hit.

It may have been difficult to muster sympathy for people complaining about losing hundreds of millions of dollars when they still lived in a mansion and were driven to McDonald’s in limousines, but there was no escaping the fact that this was a family having a crisis. While it was easy enough to chuckle as they lost their private jets and Jackie asked a bemused Hertz rental agent what the name of her driver would be, there was no denying the pain and desperation the entire family felt as David desperately tried to save his business, as their “masters of the universe” lifestyle was cut and cut in increasingly deep increments.

In the end The Queen of Versailles was so much more than the Cribs or Life Styles of the Rich and Shameless show it began life as. It dealt with the impact of the financial crisis on the mega rich, showing them to be sympathetic (if still slightly absurd) characters.

The Q&A with the director; Lauren Greenfield after the film saw the most enthusiastic response to any film I’ve seen at the festival, where the audience really wanted to know what happened to the Siegels and find out more about the film-making process.

Mike has awarded The Queen of Versailles five torches of truth

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