Starring: Jackie Siegel, David A. Siegel
Director: Lauren Greenfield
Running Time: 100 mins
The Queen Of Versailles is an American documentary about the Siegel family, the wealthy owners of a huge mansion named Versailles, and their downfall in the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2008.
Given that the world is still reeling from the impact of the Great Recession over a decade ago, and in 2012 – the time of this film’s release – that impact was even more present, it’s understandably easy for people to look at the causes, events and consequences of the financial crash in a rather one-dimensional way.
That’s why The Queen Of Versailles is actually a rather impressive documentary, as it gives a layered, balanced and compassionate insight into the life of a formerly wealthy family left struggling to live out the same lifestyle as before. The documentary might not be the most cinematic or exciting to watch, but in terms of its conscience and approach to what could have very easily been somewhat more of a hatchet job, it’s a real surprise.
First things first, though, it’s important to recognise that, while the film does impressively show sympathy and understanding for a family formerly swimming in wealth now in financial dire straits, that’s not the be-all-and-end-all of the movie.
As the film shows repeatedly, the situation the family find themselves is still far better than what millions of others around the world did in the aftermath of the Great Recession, and as such it takes its own sympathetic perspective with a pinch of salt, often poking fun at the misfortunes of the family as they attempt to recoup some of their former glory.
And it’s that balance between surprising sympathy for the Siegels and a critical eye on the real extent of their struggles that makes the film such an impressive watch at times, showing a great capacity to think for both sides of the argument, and a willingness not to get drawn into any short-tempered discourse.
So, on the one hand, we see the struggles of the family put in a critical light as we look at the wife’s spending habits – attempting to retain the lifestyle of luxury from the past – as well as the often selfish ideals of the husband, whose increasingly frustrated state causes friction within the household, and ultimately contributes to the worsening of the financial criticism.
Couple that with a slightly satirical eye on just how out of touch a family like this can be in times of financial instability, and The Queen Of Versailles offers up a riveting look at the effects of the Recession on those in the upper classes.
However, at the same time, we see that the family still aims to put right some of the wrongs from its past, recognising the deeper struggles of many of the former employees of its company, and showing the will to help them in times of hardship. In that, they’re perhaps not as out of touch as you might at first think.
Secondly, with a look at the dysfunctional relationship between husband and wife, the movie gives a fascinating portrayal of how problematic personal relationships can be in maintaining financial stability, with the selfish and often arrogant values of the husband leaving his wife in the dark about the realities of their financial situation, only serving to worsen the impact of her spending habits.
With all of that, The Queen Of Versailles is an engaging and impressively balanced watch from beginning to end. Taking a topic that was still particularly close to the bone at the time of release, it offers up a level-headed and surprisingly sympathetic look at the lives of wealthy people in the aftermath of the Great Recession.
The movie might not be the most cinematically impressive watch, and struggles to find its voice as either a fly-on-the-wall doc or something a little more orthodox, but even so, it’s the strength of its content and conscience that really makes it work, which is why I’m giving The Queen Of Versailles a 7.2 overall.