The Queen of Versailles
The Queen of Versailles is a 2012 American documentary film by Lauren Greenfield. The film depicts Jackie Siegel and David Siegel, owners of Westgate Resorts, and their family as they build their private residence—Versailles, one of the largest and most expensive single-family houses in the United States—and the crisis they face as the U.S. economy declines.
|The Queen of Versailles|
|Directed by||Lauren Greenfield|
|Produced by||Lauren Greenfield|
Danielle Renfrew Behrens
David A. Siegel
|Music by||Jeff Beal|
|Edited by||Victor Livingston|
|Distributed by||Magnolia Pictures|
|100 minutes (also 55 minutes version exists)|
David Siegel is the wealthy owner of Westgate Resorts, a timeshare company in Florida. His wife Jackie Siegel, thirty years his junior, was the winner of the Mrs. Florida pageant in 1993. They begin construction on the Versailles house, a vast mansion named after the Palace of Versailles. Located on the outskirts of Orlando, it would be one of the largest single-family detached homes in the United States if completed (the largest being North Carolina's Biltmore Estate at 178,926 square feet).
However, Siegel's company is badly affected by the Great Recession in 2008 and his family struggles to cope with their reduced income. Construction on the new house is halted, most of their servants are laid off, and their pets are neglected. David retreats into his office, determined to save his Las Vegas property venture, PH Towers. Jackie struggles to rein in her compulsive shopping habits. The children and their nanny are also interviewed. The film ends with none of their issues resolved.
The film was reviewed positively.
- The film-critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported 95% of critics gave a positive review, with an average score of 8/10 and the consensus, "The Queen of Versailles is a timely, engaging, and richly drawn portrait of the American Dream improbably composed of equal parts compassion and schadenfreude."
- The New York Times' A. O. Scott called the film "A gaudy guilty pleasure that is also a piece of trenchant social criticism", and said, "the movie starts out in the mode of reality television, resembling the pilot for a new "Real Housewives" franchise or a reboot of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous." Before long, though, it takes on the coloration of a Theodore Dreiser novel — not quite an American tragedy but a sprawling, richly detailed study of ambition, desire and the wild swings of fortune that are included in the price of the capitalist ticket."
- The Economist called it "an uncomfortably intimate glimpse of a couple's struggle with a harsh new reality," concluding that "the film's great achievement is that it invites both compassion and Schadenfreude. What could have been merely a silly send-up manages to be a meditation on marriage and a metaphor for the fragility of fortunes, big and small."
- Allmovie.com gave the film four stars out of five.
The documentary won the U.S. Directing Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, the Grand Jury Prize from the Brisbane International Film Festival, and a Best Director Award from the RiverRun Film Festival. "The Queen of Versailles" was also nominated for Best Documentary Film, 2012, by the International Documentary Association (IDA). It was broadcast on BBC Four as part of the Storyville series.
It was also nominated for the Critics' Choice Award for Best Documentary Feature.
On January 24, 2013, the United States District Court, Middle District of Florida, stayed the suit pending arbitration. Siegel claimed Greenfield had not obtained a proper release from the subjects of the film, in particular David Siegel and Westgate Resorts. In staying the lawsuit, Judge Anne C. Conway found David Siegel's testimony to be "inconsistent and incredible and thus lacking weight." She disagreed with Siegel's position, which she deemed to be "quite bizarre" in light of his subsequent conduct. Directing that the case be administratively closed, Conway ordered the defendants to file and serve, on or before May 1, 2013, and every three months thereafter, a status report regarding the arbitration proceedings.
The subsequent arbitration was heard by Roy Rifkin of the Independent Film and Television Alliance in July 2013. On March 13, 2014, he returned his ruling that the film was not defamatory. He elaborated, "having viewed the supposedly egregious portions of the Motion Picture numerous times, [the Arbitrator] simply does not find that any of the content of the Motion Picture was false." Furthermore, he wrote that "There is nothing taken away by the viewer of the Motion Picture that is inconsistent with the fundamental reality that the global recession created a crisis for Westgate causing it to have to reluctantly give up its interest in PH Towers," and "To a great extent this is derived from the words of David, Jackie, and Richard Siegel themselves. Perhaps the clearest example of this is David referring to the story being told as a 'rags-to-riches-to-rags story.'" Lastly, Mr. Rifkin found that Westgate failed to show how it was damaged from the documentary, saying that the company "did not remotely establish the type of malice required for a defamation claim on behalf of a public figure." He subsequently ordered David Siegel and Westgate Resorts to pay the filmmakers $750,000 for legal fees.
In a separate arbitration, Greg Derin of the American Arbitration Association ruled on February 28, 2014 that the filmmakers' agreement with the family, pertaining to certain life rights, was "invalid and unenforceable". The Siegels' attempt to sue for $5 million in damages was also dismissed by Mr. Derin.
As Westgate Resorts' finances have improved since 2013, Siegel now owns the Versailles property outright. Construction has resumed, but as of 2018 is still not complete. Expected to be valued at over $100 million, the project will be the fourth most expensive house in the United States. David Siegel and Westgate Resorts continue to operate a timeshare business, but without the PH Towers featured in the documentary. As a privately-held enterprise, it is unknown how much of the $1.2 billion in debt Westgate Resorts continues to owe its lenders (originally reported by Businessweek in March 15, 2012).
- Guy Adams (August 15, 2012). "David and Jackie Siegel: Meet the King and Queen of Versailles". The Independent. Retrieved June 8, 2015.
…Jackie, the 1993 winner of the Mrs Florida America beauty pageant...
- "The Queen of Versailles". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 18 November 2012.
- Scott, A. O. (July 19, 2012). "Let them Eat Crow". The New York Times.
- "All fall down: A riches-to-rags story in America". The Economist. 25 August 2012. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
- "The Queen of Versailles". Allmovie. allmovie.com. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
- Silverstein, Melissa (January 30, 2012). "Lauren Greenfield and Ava Duvernay Win Top Directing Honors at Sundance". Indiewire.com. Archived from the original on September 27, 2013.
- "BIFFDOCS 2012 winner announced". November 22, 2012. Archived from the original on September 27, 2013.
- "2012 Award Winners". n.d. Archived from the original on April 2, 2014. Retrieved 2014-04-02.
- "2012 IDA Documentary Awards". n.d. Archived from the original on April 19, 2012. Retrieved April 2, 2014.
- "Storyville: The Queen Of Versailles". Retrieved 24 February 2013.
- Brooks Barnes (2012-01-20). "Documentary Footage Raises Questions About Lawsuit". The Carpetbagger (blog). New York Times. Retrieved 2013-02-05.
- Kurt Orzeck (2012-01-11). "Sundance sued over opening-day documentary". Reuters. Retrieved 2013-02-05.
- Eriq Gardner (2013-01-25). "'Queen of Versailles' Filmmaker Wins Key Ruling in Defamation Fight". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2013-02-06.
- "Westgate Resorts, Ltd. v. Lauren Greenfield, Frank Evers and Greenfield/Evers LLC" (PDF). 2013-01-24. Retrieved 2013-02-06.
- Sara K. Clarke (2013-01-28). "'Queen of Versailles' lawsuit headed for arbitration". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2013-02-06.
- Deshayla Strachan (2013-01-29). "'Queen of Versailles' Spat Heads to Arbitration". Entertainment Law Digest. Retrieved 2013-02-06.
- Gardner, Eriq (2014-03-13). "'Queen of Versailles' Filmmaker Beats Westgate's Defamation Claim (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter.
- Benzine, Adam (2014-03-17). "IFTA backs filmmakers over "Queens of Versailles" complaint". RealScreen.com.
- Benzine, Adam (March 20, 2014). "Exclusive: "Queen of Versailles" subjects ink NBC studio deal". RealScreen.com. Retrieved 2014-03-30.
- Clarke, Sarah (13 November 2013). "Jackie Siegel, 'Queen of Versailles,' to host charity garage sale". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 6 June 2013.
- Riefflen, Lauren (May 3, 2011). "Top 10 Most Expensive Homes for Sale in the U.S." Zillow. Retrieved 8 February 2014.
- "PH Towers Westgate at Planet Hollywood has new owner". 2014-06-04. Retrieved 2014-06-04.
- "Versailles, the Would-Be Biggest House in America". 2014-06-02. Retrieved 2014-06-02.
- Official website
- The Queen of Versailles at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Queen of Versailles on IMDb
- Court order (United States District Court, Middle District of Florida, Jan. 24, 2013)
- Interview on WNYC Leonard Lopate show July 16, 2012 with director
- Interview of Lauren Greenfield by Jian Ghomeshi for CBC Radio, Aug. 13, 2012