Being Coleen: Chanel Cresswell stars in TV drama of ‘Wagatha Christie’ trial

Actor plays ‘intimidating’ role of Coleen Rooney in Channel 4 adaptation of libel action brought by Rebekah Vardy

It was one of the most closely followed high court trials in recent years, spawning gossip, memes and social commentary across newspapers, Twitter and the legal industry.

But one person who did not keep up with the now-infamous “Wagatha Christie” trial – the whodunnit of the digital-age – was Chanel Cresswell, the actor who will be stepping into the shoes of one of its key players.

Cresswell, best known as Kelly Jenkins in This is England, will play Coleen Rooney in Channel 4’s Vardy v Rooney: A Courtroom Drama, depicting the fraught battle between Rooney and Rebekah Vardy.

“I’m kind of glad I didn’t keep up with the trial at the time, because I went into this project having just read the court transcripts, which I think was important,” Cresswell said.

In order to prepare for the role, the Bafta-winning actor said she had to separate what she had read about Rooney from who she was as a person, deep down.

“It was quite intimidating playing her, because it’s one of those roles that requires a lot of attention. Everyone feels like they’ve grown up with Coleen in a way. When she was younger she was on the front of all the newspapers, and she’s a totally different person now.”

To do this, she said she had to start peeling back Rooney’s layers one by one – examining how she behaved; how she referred to her family and friends.

“The last thing I wanted was to make her a caricature of herself. I had to watch a lot of documentaries to find out what’s important to her, what her roots are, what the foundations of her as a person are. I just started with the fact that she’s a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister. Once I compiled all the information I went from there.”

Cresswell said Rooney was “a very loyal person” – an attribute she wanted to draw attention to. “The media definitely has a certain outlook on her when it’s not necessarily who she is.”

The trial, which became one of the most expensive libel cases in history, began three years ago when Rooney – who is married to the former England footballer Wayne Rooney – conducted a “sting” operation to find out who was leaking stories from her private Instagram account to journalists at the Sun.

Rooney identified the culprit with the now-infamous words posted on Instagram: “It’s ………. Rebekah Vardy’s account” – which managed to recreate the intrigue and denouement of an Agatha Christie thriller for the social media age.

Vardy, wife of the Leicester City footballer Jamie Vardy, denied passing information to the Sun and sued Rooney for libel in an attempt to restore her reputation, but she lost her case in July.

“It’s one of those situations that escalated very, very quickly,” Cresswell said. The trial, she added, gripped the nation because it offered “a real, truthful insight into these women’s lives. It gave people a chance to see behind the facade of the glamorous Wag life. There’s no escaping the truth in a courtroom. We are a nation of celebrities and their rise and fall.”

Cresswell stars alongside Natalia Tena, who plays Vardy; Michael Sheen, who plays Rooney’s barrister David Sherborne; and Simon Coury, who plays Vardy’s lawyer Hugh Tomlinson KC in the two-part legal drama.

The show uses verbatim court transcripts to recreate the case, which also catapulted the two sparring legal teams into the spotlight. Much like Rooney and Vardy, the lawyers’ every courtroom move was dissected and scrutinised in the press.

Cresswell said sticking so thoroughly to the transcripts from court “was very different for me as an actor” but imperative from a legal perspective. “I had to make sure to even say little words correctly. It took a while to get used to that way of working.”

The process had the effect of feeling like a real-life trial at times and helped her empathise with her character. “It must have been nerve-racking for them to stand up there on their own, knowing there was a sea of journalists outside hanging on their every word,” she said.

The actor has also recently been cast in Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen Netflix series, which she said was a “pinch-me moment”.

Vardy v Rooney: A Courtroom Drama screens on Channel 4 on 21 and 22 December at 9pm, and on All 4


Nadia Khomami Arts and culture correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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