Here’s a wild claim, but one I believe deeply to be true: the Rooney household – of the former England football captain Wayne, his wife Coleen and their children Kai, Kit, Cass and Klay – does not own a pen.
Pencils, sure – four kids, after all. Interactive iPad tool that’s shaped like a pen, OK. Perhaps, at a stretch, a £400 Montblanc fountain pen, mounted in a velvet box on a shelf, inkless as the day it was born. But a pen? Your normal, quick-maths, back-of-an-envelope, chewed-top, lidless, shameless, identity-less pen? I’d struggle to believe it. I would sooner wager that the Rooneys have a separate iPhone purchased solely for the purpose of writing shopping lists.
Because of this, it is evident from the outset of Channel 4’s new “courtroom drama” Vardy v Rooney that the tale of Wagatha Christie is no longer a news story but a legend. It opens not with a shot of Coleen (Chanel Cresswell) typing the statement that started the whole business on 9 October 2019 – when she revealed on Twitter that rigorous detective work had led her to believe the person leaking stories from her private Instagram was…….. Rebekah Vardy’s account – but with her writing it by hand. Cresswell pauses her voiceover when she reaches that now-infamous extended ellipsis, and we listen, with bated breath, to the pop pop pop pop of ink dotting paper: a sound we understand to mean “Once upon a time”.
Of course, Wagatha Christie’s folkloric nature is both a symptom of and the reason for its somewhat unexpected longevity. The better a story, the more it is told – and the more it is told, the more it becomes about its own telling. After Rooney made her statement, Vardy sued her for libel, and what began as a personal feud between footballers’ wives became a multi-million pound trial. When it played out in the High Court in July this year, it was serious enough to be front-page news, and silly enough to serve as a distraction from bleaker stories. Needless to say, the British press practically wet themselves with excitement.
The forensic examination of the case in the papers and on social media renders Channel 4’s two-part show – and the concurrent West End stage production The Wagatha Christie Trial – slightly pointless. Both the show and the play are set in court and built entirely from witness statements and court transcripts, condensing seven days of evidence into a couple of hours of drama. It’s entertaining to hear it all again – standout comments include: “Arguing with Coleen is like arguing with a pigeon: you can tell it that you are right and it is wrong but it’s still going to shit in your hair” – but Vardy v Rooney is unlikely to provide the viewer with any new information. Who, after all, is watching this who hasn’t already inhaled the reports of the trial? This is a show cynically conceived in a boardroom: an instant hit without a writers’ room in sight.
Yet ironically Channel 4 clearly understands this is really about how stories are constructed. Outside the script, theatrics abound. Between sections of questioning there are images of (real) tweets and clips of (fictional) news coverage; just as the women and their barristers are identified with giant lettering stamped across the screen, so is the gaggle of reporters furiously taking notes at the back of the courtroom (“THE PRESS PACK”). There is a foreboding soundtrack worthy of a James Cameron movie. And the lawyers’ natural bombast is enhanced: David Sherborne KC gleefully reading out the word “cunt” in the High Court has nothing on Michael Sheen gleefully enacting David Sherborne KC gleefully reading out the word “cunt” in the High Court – twice.
Natalia Tena’s understated performance as Vardy brings a more serious feel to parts: the abuse Vardy faced; the deteriorating mental state of her agent, Caroline Watt, whom she – in Sherborne’s words – “threw under the bus”; and Vardy’s indignant assertion that her column in the Sun was not a concerted effort to be famous but to make money of her own. Cresswell is captivating as Rooney, too, jaw set, story straight, a woman who’s been around the block a few too many times. But then, at the end, the two barristers, finished with their supposedly impassioned closing submissions, take their wigs off and shake hands with a knowing smile – a micro-acknowledgement of the farcical nature of the whole affair – or perhaps a nod to the imminent arrival of their hefty paychecks.
Is there really anything to Wagatha Christie beyond escapism, hysteria and the juxtaposition of fake lashes and skeleton arguments? Not really – at least, nothing we couldn’t learn elsewhere. Does Vardy v Rooney add anything? Again, nothing we couldn’t learn elsewhere. Does that mean this tale won’t continue to be written and rewritten for years to come? Absolutely not. You could even have a go yourself. Have you got a pen?
[See also: The best and worst of Christmas TV]