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The house was inspired not by the palace in France but by the version of it at the Paris hotel in Las Vegas. The 90,000sq ft monstrosity would have 30 bathrooms, 10 kitchens, countless bedrooms and features that Louis XIV didn’t bother with, such as a bowling alley, a spa, an ice rink and a sushi bar.
“See, that’s what $5 million worth of Chinese marble looks like,” said Jackie on a tour of the unfinished shell of a building. The glitzy, well-connected couple – “I got George W elected president personally,” said David – had seven children under 12 plus an adopted niece who ranged about their only slightly more modest mansion in Florida, waited on by a staff of 15 cooks, nannies and cleaners.
There was lot of bling and wastefulness to be sniffy about, but by the end of this compelling morality tale, and propelled by Jackie’s candour and warm, uncomplicated personality, it was almost easy to feel sorry for the Siegels. If their excess and self-regard were mesmerising, the swift turnaround in their fortunes – “from riches to rags”, as David described it – was jaw-dropping.
After the 2008 banking crash, Siegel’s business began to flounder, and his lenders called in their loans. He carped about the banks and their willingness to lend cheap money during the good times and their inflexibility and speed in foreclosure after the crash – a familiar compliant.
By last year, when Greenfield stopped filming, only one housekeeper remained, and she was living in the playhouse in the garden to get some peace. The dogs were doing their business all over the carpets, the children had been taken out of private school and the half-finished megamansion was for sale. Jackie was hoping to hold on to their home but accepted that it might have to go. David was slumped on a sofa in his den, surrounded by stacks of documents, endlessly berating the children for leaving too many lights on.
As a tale of hubris and a parable about what happens when the American dream is stretched until it snaps, this intimate and perfectly pitched film – Greenfield never judged her subjects – was unmissable.
The dire, relentlessly unfunny pilot for Ricky Gervais’s comedy Derek(Channel 4, Wednesday), came and mercifully went last year, but he’s a star, so it’s back for a series. He plays a 49-year-old with a learning disability who helps out at a care home for the elderly.