Do you remember that glorious time 800 years ago – that is to say, earlier in 2022 – when we watched the libel case brought by Rebekah Vardy against Coleen Rooney unfold in a million tabloid reports and a hundred billion social media posts? The so-called “Wagatha Christie” trial – that was the name that stuck, but I would just like to give a shout-out to whichever equal genius came up with “The Scousetrap”– was the highest drama for the lowest stakes, and briefly restored happiness and vigour to the nation.
Channel 4’s distillation of this hugely enjoyable time, Vardy v Rooney: A Courtroom Drama, is its Christmas present to us. The endeavour is partly a regifting – it is almost entirely composed of trial transcripts and media reports – and partly a selection box. All the best bits have been whomped together and a bow, in the form of Michael Sheen as Rooney’s lawyer David Sherborne, stuck on top to make it feel that bit more special.
In case you haven’t had the pleasure: Coleen Rooney, wife of a famous footballer called Wayne, who himself looks as if he is made of footballs, became suspicious that one of the followers of her Instagram account was leaking stories about her to the press. She was particularly suspicious of one follower – Rebekah Vardy, wife of Jamie, who is another famous footballer. You don’t need to know about the men. Vardy, felt Rooney, had always been overfriendly and keen for information about her and her husband during their non-Instagram interactions in a thing known as Real Life. She also thought Vardy was keen to develop her own public profile, and therefore to keep a good, tip-based relationship with the tabloids.
So – and this is where the Wagatha/Scousetrap bit comes in – Rooney configured her account in such a way that only Vardy could see a fake story she put up there. When it appeared in the Sun, she knew she had her woman, and unmasked her in a public post. Vardy then took her to court for libel, which is where Channel 4 begins.
We relive highlights of the trial such as the bewigged barrister wondering aloud if sharing details of Peter Andre’s “trouser equipment” being “like a miniature chipolata” in a 2004 interview with the News of the World was a sign that Ms Vardy respected other people’s privacy or no? And even secondhand, it will never not be funny to hear a member of the (then) Queen’s Counsel be required to quote the text message “she better not cunt me off”. We marvel once again at the defence offered – that Vardy’s friend and former agent, Caroline Watt, had access to Vardy’s account and leaked the stories without her knowledge or permission. “What about all these messages between the pair of you saying things like, ‘Let’s leak this story, Caroline, with my full knowledge and permission?’,” asks Sherborne (I paraphrase, but not by much). And we wriggle delightedly again – in fact, it may hit even better the second time around – when the court is told that many WhatsApp messages between agent and client are missing because Caroline’s phone got dropped into the North Sea. No, really. This is why they only had to transcribe things to keep us entertained.
The first episode, which is devoted to Vardy’s time on the stand, does become a little tedious by the end. There is, it turns out, a limit to how much you can enjoy someone being so comprehensively hoist with her own petard. And the second part covers Rooney’s testimony – which is more straightforward and thus less thrilling – so the drama ends on a falling note. And it doesn’t do anything more than it purported to be doing from the off – retelling a daft story and revelling in its very daftness. It clearly wanted to be first out of the traps more than it wanted to be the cleverest or most considered. There are no wider points made about our obsession with celebrity, or the semiotics war being waged via choice of handbags, makeup and outfits throughout the trial (to say nothing of the power move pulled by the Rooneys when they went on a planned holiday rather than turn up for the final summaries and verdict), or the part social media and its toxicity now plays in almost every relationship in the public eye. Maybe that will come later. Maybe that will be in the (separate) documentaries we are told the plaintiff and defendant have already signed up for, which will be coming to a streaming platform near you soon. In the meantime, enjoy your Christmas gift.