The Queen of Versailles, is one of the first two movies to sell at Sundance and one of the most controversial.
In a town known for making “Dreams Come True,” it should come as no surprise that just outside the Disney gates a real-life fairytale exists, complete with a castle, king and queen. Jacqueline Siegel, well-known socialite, wife to David Siegel (the Westgate Resort timeshare mogul), and mother to eight children is building the largest home in America, in Windermere. It sits adjacent to Lake Butler and is named after the French palace that inspired its design.
David, the subject, is suing the festival and the filmmakers. It traces the rise and fall of David and his wife Jackie,
Director Lauren Greenfield has made a movie about the housing crisis and American consumerism.
The hook for the movie and the source of the title is Jackie and David’s thwarted ambitions to build the largest house in America, modeled after Versailles and based on a sketch David drew on a private plane on the way to Las Vegas.
Just as David mortgages all their properties to keep making money off them, Westgate targets people it perceives as cheap (most of them agree to take tours of the Vegas resort in exchange for show tickets) and talks them in to spending beyond their means on the assumption that money will stay inexpensive and the economy will keep going strong. The dependency goes in both directions: when the Siegels’ cash flow disappears, they’re in danger of bankrupting the Vegas resort, which they desperately need to stay operational so they can pay their remaining staff after massive layoffs.
When Jackie and her children fly commercial for the first time, the children are perplexed about what other people are doing on their plane, and Jackie doesn’t understand that her rental car doesn’t come with a driver.
When it comes to their staff, David gets grumpy when their first downscaled Christmas party doesn’t have staff to serve the food, and Jackie complains, “I really miss having a manager to do all this stuff for me.”
When it looks like Versailles will fall through, Jackie tells one of the nannies brightly, “Marissa, look at the bright side. You might not have to clean this house.”
“I never would have had so many children if I couldn’t have a nanny,” Jackie says, just sentences before talking about how her kids are a bundle of joy.
As their fortunes fall, Jackie tells the camera that “I told them they might actually have to go to college and make their own money.”
David confides that “I haven’t put anything aside” for his children or for his and Jackie’s retirement.
Cliff, their chauffeur, turns out to have bought 19 houses as investments, only to lose not just his investments but his family home. “It happens pretty fast, but you know, you survive,” he says. “It’s hard to go back to renting…It humbles you a lot.”
Tina, Jackie’s childhood neighbor and best friend, admits that she envies Jackie to a certain extent, but explains that “My dreams don’t even go that far.” Later, we find out Jackie’s sent her money to help her keep her decidedly modest house out of foreclosure. But even though Tina owes just $1,700, the money comes too late to save her.
Virginia Nebab, one of the family’s nannies, owns land in her home country of the Philippines, where she hopes to return to build a house some day to fulfill her father’s dream of living in a concrete dwelling. He dies before she can return, leaving her reflecting that at least he was buried in a concrete tomb. Later, we see her living in the Siegel twins’ playhouse, telling the camera “This is my palace…I love this place and I’m so glad Jackie gave it to me.”
“David and I did not exchange Christmas gifts this year,” Jacqueline says, “We decided not to, you know, since times are tough.”
Jacqueline Siegel grew up in Binghamton, a tiny town in upstate New York, in a modest home with two hardworking parents and three siblings. The entire family shared one bathroom during her childhood and she remembers the inconvenience of having to wait in line to use it. Perhaps that is the reason “Versailles” will boast 30 bathrooms.
Jackie and David also included ten kitchens onto their palace so they can have a sushi bar as well as other specialized cooking spaces.
Looking to escape her small town and make something of her life, Jackie put herself through college and received a Computer Engineering degree. She landed a job at IBM.
Her dream of owning a home valued at $100,000 was well on its way to becoming a reality. But when she noticed her cube-dwelling office peers were counting down the days to retirement, she was motivated to move to Manhattan to model. After finding success there, she moved to Florida to compete in the Mrs. Florida pageant (and won).
David Siegel explains, when Jacqueline walked into a party hosted by a mutual friend, it was love at first sight. David romanced Jackie and whisked her into his world: The world of a billionaire.
Exactly what does it take to be the largest home in America?
90,000 Square Feet
2 Movie Theaters
8,000 Square Foot Master Suite
Two-story Front Door (weighing more than a ton)
3.7 Million Dollar Custom Windows
Full-service Health Spa (with massage rooms)
Indoor Roller Skating Rink
Two-lane Bowling Alley
Stadium Tennis Court (seating 200 spectators)
Full-sized Baseball Diamond
Underground Parking for 30 Cars
Wine Cellar (holds more than 20,000 bottles of wine)
Information provided by Joe Bathalter, Project Manager for Versailles
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