The Queen of Versailles (PG)


Anthony Quinn
Thursday 06 September 2012 22:35
American grotesque: David and Jacqueline Siegel in the riveting 'The Queen of Versailles'
American grotesque: David and Jacqueline Siegel in the riveting 'The Queen of Versailles'

From unpromising beginnings, Lauren Greenfield's documentary opens into a riveting American tragicomedy. David and Jacqueline Siegel are a married couple living high on the hog in Orlando, Florida.

He's founder of a timeshare empire, Westgate Resorts, reclines on a golden throne, and claims to have personally got George W elected in 2000 (the means "may not necessarily have been legal"). She's a former model, engineering graduate and mother of seven, with a major shopping addiction. They've decided that their home isn't deluxe enough and must build a gigantic palace, modelled on Versailles and a hotel in Vegas.

The expensive bad taste makes you feel slightly ill, as does the air of blithe self-congratulation. Greenfield's timing is immaculate, however, for come autumn 2008 the property market collapses and thousands of Westgate employees are laid off.

The palace stands half-built, a trash Xanadu, while chez Siegel it's a chaos of expiring pets, exhausted nannies and dogshit on the carpets. Schadenfreude is unavoidable, though not unceasing: David, hounded by the banks, becomes even less likeable, but Jackie shows a bit of grace under pressure, chastened, unsoured, and pretty hilarious.

On flying commercial for the first time in years, she goes to the Hertz rental desk and asks, straight-faced, "What's the name of my driver?" And somehow she still goes shopping...

The story has no neat ending – David is suing Greenfield for defamation of character, and surely stands no chance – but as a report on consumerism gone mad it's hard to beat.

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