10 Years Ago: 'The Queen of Versailles' was One of the Greatest Documentaries of Schadenfreude | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

10 Years Ago: ‘The Queen of Versailles’ was One of the Greatest Documentaries of Schadenfreude 

The 2012 documentary The Queen of Versailles, directed by Lauren Greenfield and released ten years ago this week, is one of the best documentaries of the last decade, for several different reasons. 

10 Years Ago: 'The Queen of Versailles' was One of the Greatest Documentaries of Schadenfreude | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

The story of Jackie Siegel, her husband David, and their quest to build the largest single-family home in the United States, was a hugely funny exploration of a unique world. It also offered heaping amounts of schadenfreude and a great deal of satisfaction in the downfall of these people. And perhaps most fascinating of all, the film was one of those documentaries that ended up taking a wildly different direction from what was originally planned. 

David Siegel was (and is) the owner of Westgate Resorts, the nation’s largest seller of timeshares, and the sort of old rich guy who sits on a literal gold throne in his home. Jackie is his much younger trophy wife and the film’s primary subject. 

The Plot

The Siegels were working to build a Florida home called Versailles, meant to be the largest house in the country. But the filming of the documentary coincided with the 2008 housing collapse and the subsequent Great Recession, which hit the timeshare business especially hard and threw the construction plans into chaos. And if you’ve ever had the displeasure of sitting through a timeshare sales pitch, their downfall likely brought a smile to your face. 

This made their existing, massively large mansion become overrun with exotic pets and start to resemble Grey Gardens. At one point, one of the Siegels’ children sees a lizard who they didn’t previously recognize. 

Jackie, the more we learn about her, comes across as somewhat sympathetic, but her husband absolutely does not. We learn, from his son, that David’s late parents used to go to Vegas and get robbed blind, and he decided he wanted to be the one doing the robbing (Siegel later sued the filmmakers of The Queen of Versailles, although he lost the suit).

Siegel also took personal credit for the election of George W. Bush, threatened to fire employees if Barack Obama was elected, and later backed his fellow enthusiast of garish Florida mansions, Donald Trump. 

The Ensuing Years

In case you were wondering how things turned for the Siegels, the answer is the same as that of most American rich people. In 2014, just two years after the film, Siegel’s company bought the Las Vegas hotel formerly known as the Las Vegas Hilton — the hotel with which Elvis was most associated — and renamed it the Westgate Las Vegas. Barack Obama notwithstanding, his business appears to have recovered. 

As for Greenfield, she’s shown quite an aptitude for telling the stories of the super-wealthy; she would go on to direct 2019’s The Kingmaker, another film about a fortune-hoarding wife of a bad man: former Philippines First Lady Imelda Marcos. 

As for that big house, it’s once again under construction, and Jackie Seigel returned this year in The Queen of Versailles Reigns Again, a streaming series on Discovery+. She had previously appeared as one of many subjects of Generation Wealth, another project directed by Greenfield. 

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