At first glance, the documentary film The Queen of Versailles could easily come across as Central Florida’s very own answer to Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise. Think of it as The Real Housewife of Windermere. But when the titular queen and her husband, who is over thirty years her senior, hit some major financial snags, the film also serves as an ironic document of the economic meltdown felt by many in this country during the close of the last decade.
And these aren’t just any Central Florida residents. The queen in question is Jacqueline Siegel, a former Mrs. Florida who is married to the time share king, Westgate Resorts founder David Siegel.
Director Lauren Greenfield appears to have been given carte blanche access to the Siegels while filming the documentary that was initially intended to chronicle the Windermere couple’s completion of their new home…a home that would stand to become the largest mansion not only in Florida, but in the entire United States. And a home that has yet to be completed.
A funny thing happened during the construction of the 90,000 square foot mansion that was modeled partly on the Palace of Versailles and partly on a Vegas hotel. The recession hit, the real estate bubble burst, and the Siegel’s found themselves forced to make the same sorts of cuts and concessions as many other Americans. Or at least those Americans possessing the kind of wealth to at least still retain their original 26,000 square foot home.
As they try to figure out ways to keep construction going on the new house, they begin to downsize in ways that are at once both comical and tragic. With no more private jet access, Jacqueline is forced to travel with her eight children via commercial airlines, to extremely funny effect. The domestic crew is cut from a staff of 19 to 4 and the huge house becomes an unmaintainable mess. There’s no one to man the pooper scoopers! And Christmas shopping will now be done at Wal-Mart.
In addition to the Siegels and their children, the housekeeping staff who were retained also play a major role in the story, in shockingly surreal aspects. One of the nannies makes her own house from a discarded playhouse of the children. Another one of the servants takes on the role of Rudolph the Reindeer at the family’s annual Christmas gathering. Watching her prepare for the role is at once hilarious and heartbreaking.
It’s a testament to the likability of the Siegels that you can even feel slightly sorry for them and their budgetary constraints. Jacqueline seems more like the “girl next door” who just happened to hit the matrimonial lottery. And David’s gruff demeanor and everyman concerns, such as an extended tirade over who was running up the electric bill by leaving the lights on in the house, make us relate to him. The children even seem to be extremely normal. They could be us. But they’re not. And at the film’s close, you come to realize that is probably a good thing. But you’re darn glad you had the chance to spend some time with them.
The Queen of Versailles opens today at the Enzian. Because the theater expects this film to be very popular with Central Florida audiences, they are expecting many showtimes to sell out. The Enzian suggests getting your tickets a few days in advance and planning on arriving to the theater 60-90 minutes before showtime to get in line for a seat. Additional parking is available across the street at Park Maitland School or across 17-92 in the parking lot for First Watch.