Culture > Documentary
Lauren Greenfield/Magnolia Pictures

The Queen of Versailles

Documentary | Raw portrayal of two individuals suffering the death of their idols is the most distressing part

Issue: "Syria's pain," Sept. 8, 2012

When photographer/director Lauren Greenfield met billionaire Jackie Siegel during an Elle magazine shoot, Greenfield was already preparing a long-term photographic work on "wealth, consumerism, and the international influence of the values of the American Dream." As Greenfield got to know Jackie and her husband, David, they must have seemed easy targets for a consumerism exposé.

The Siegels live in a 26,000-square-foot "starter mansion," which they hope to leave behind for their new home-a 90,000-square-foot Vegas-style replica of Versailles with 30 bathrooms, two movie theaters, a bowling alley, an ice-skating/roller rink, and a health spa, making it the largest home in America. Jackie, a former model and beauty queen, regularly flaunts her shiny purses, blonde hair, and super-sized chest implants. David-basically, Donald Trump with less hair-is founder and CEO of the world's largest time-share company, and his ego is as large as Jackie's, er, personality.

But even early in Greenfield's vision, Jackie shows a depth that the Kardashians don't. "I found her refreshingly friendly and candid," Greenfield later wrote, "with a combination of chutzpah, self-effacing humor, and lack of pretense, qualities that are sometimes obscured by the protective veil of great wealth." Jackie's life doesn't only revolve around material things. She and David have had seven children together and raised another child they "inherited."

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But when the 2008 financial meltdown hit, Greenfield had to change her template. No longer uber-rich, Jackie shopped at Walmart, they let go their hired help, and they put their dream house, Versailles, up for sale.

Although the documentary is rated PG for thematic elements and language, its raw portrayal of two individuals suffering the death of their idols is the most distressing part (save Jackie's immodest dress). David loses his empire, and Jackie loses David's adoration. Without treasure in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroy, it's a painful dethroning.

Emily Whitten
Emily Whitten

Emily reviews books and movies for WORLD and is a contributor at She homeschools her two children and sees books through the eyes of a mother.


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