“I hope you watch it and have a laugh”

Coleen Rooney at court in May, and Chanel Cresswell portraying her in Channel 4’s “Vardy v Rooney” (AFP/Getty/Channel 4)

His………. Rebekah Vardy’s account.” Three years later, this remains the celebrity tweet signature that he continues to give. Coleen Rooney probably didn’t anticipate that sending her message in October 2019 would ignite a gas bomb of a scandal. Nor one involving allegations of secret Wag wars, a phone thrown in the ocean, and Peter Andre’s private parts that weren’t up to par. It is the tweet itself, however, that has had the most substantial legacy. That delightfully creative use of ellipsis. The wealth of memes that she has inspired. Then, last summer, the dramatic court case she led to.

Vardy, the wife of Leicester City forward Jamie, sued Rooney, the wife of former England captain Wayne, for libel in 2020. Rooney claimed her personal stories were leaked to the media via the account Vardy’s Instagram, after months of personal investigation. Vardy insisted that she was innocent and that her agent Caroline Watt was responsible for sharing her stories, not hers. The ensuing ‘Wagatha Christie’ trial – as it was christened by the internet – began in the High Court in May 2022 and concluded on 29 July, when a judge dismissed Vardy’s case. Vardy was also ordered to pay 90% of Rooney’s legal costs, with experts estimating the case could cost her at least £3m. She insists she is still innocent. Exactly one month after the verdict, production began on a two-part television film inspired by all of this. In just under two hours, Channel 4’s Vardy Versus Rooney: A Courtroom Drama it gives us a front row seat to the show, using trial transcripts to compose the script.

Natalia Tena and Chanel Cresswell play Vardy and Rooney, respectively, while Michael Sheen plays David Sherborne, Rooney’s fearsome lawyer. It’s as close as you get to being a fly on that courthouse wall: we hear the exact words of all sides, while Rooney and Vardy themselves feel close enough to reality without veering into parody. For Cresswell, that seriousness was essential. She has avoided the tabloid gossip and hot shots spread across social media. Instead, she wanted to make sure her Coleen was as impartial as possible.

“I just wanted to play a person,” the 32-year-old tells me over Zoom. “Not necessarily a footballer’s wife, or a woman who is entwined with drama. I wanted to elaborate a bit. So I’ve moved away from the media noise of it all; I just wanted to go read the transcripts and run the information you provided.

Known by many for her Bafta-winning performance as Kelly Jenkins in This is England TV series and big screen film, Cresswell took the role of Coleen Rooney as seriously as any other. She swaps her natural Nottingham accent for Rooney’s Liverpool tones in the show – something that sounds effortless to audiences, but a task Cresswell worked hard to accomplish early on. “I was constantly listening to Coleen in my ear,” she says, “because I know how important it is to have the right voice.”

His reverence for Rooney is clear. She often praises her robustness as a wife and mother of four, as well as her sheer eagerness to embrace her inner detective. “She was very brave trying to get to the bottom of what she thought was bothering her, so when I was on that test, I wanted to play to her strengths as a wife, a mother, someone who thought her private information was leaked,” he explains. ‘I wanted to play a different version of Coleen than the audience thinks they know.”

The media is very good at creating these huge waves of drama and headlines and memes

Although Vardy versus Rooney he absolutely wants his audience to enjoy watching, it’s not at the expense of the names involved. There’s no snooty teasing of the women at the heart of the story – they feel like real people who’ve gotten themselves into a bit of a mess. Had it been dramatized any other way, Cresswell says, she wouldn’t have signed up. “The only thing I didn’t want was for him to turn these women into caricatures,” she says. “One thing that became very apparent in the course of running this case was the issue of trolling. It would be very hypocritical of us to make a series and highlight all the stories that would again have an avalanche of trolling.

As part of her case, Vardy identified the online abuse she had received in the aftermath of Rooney’s accusatory tweet. One particularly chilling message involved someone wanting her newborn baby “put in an incinerator.” To avoid trolling worse for Vardy, the program doesn’t evil either side. Instead the prospects of both women are treated with good will. For many viewers, Vardy’s version of events won’t be particularly convincing. And all the while, Rooney feels like the right party, hauled into court to no avail. However, Vardy is afforded some sympathy: in the spotlight of the grandstand, he wiggles questions so intense beneath her that it’s hard not to feel a little sorry for her.

“We made sure it was very fair and very balanced,” Cresswell says. “You saw the dynamics of these women and how they were just people. They got angry. They cried. They found it difficult to stand on the witness stand. It’s intimidating, even being on the witness stand as an actor, so you [do] sincerely sorry for whoever was up there being questioned. The whole world is watching, and you know it. They are depending on every word you say – it must be a great weight on your shoulders, for both parties.

Though they barely interact on the show, Tena and Cresswell are wonderfully matched — on camera, their contempt for each other seems ingrained and powerful. But, according to Cresswell, rather than following the actors’ method, they found that they needed to let their real-life camaraderie flow off-camera. “We couldn’t help it, we talked all the time!” she laughs. “The roles that we were playing were so heavily documented in the media and it was very topical [when we were filming] We couldn’t not talk to each other. I think we were both making sure we didn’t want to create these people [into] jokes. Both of these women were really struggling to get their point across.”

Neither Rooney nor Vardy was involved in making the program. But Crosswell hopes that if Rooney ever tunes in, she’ll give her performance a thumbs-up. “It may not be now, but probably in a few years, I hope she opens a bottle of white wine and looks at it and has a laugh, looking up at me as I try to do her accent,” she says with a grin.

Chanel Cresswell solves crimes as Coleen Rooney in

Chanel Cresswell solves crimes as Coleen Rooney in ‘Vardy v Rooney: A Courtroom Drama’ (Channel 4)

As with everyone else, Cresswell wants the show to do double duty of entertaining viewers, while also breaking down some of the assumptions that may exist about the worries and concerns of footballers’ wives. In his mind, Rooney and Vardy are just like everyone else.

“They’ll both be doing documentaries about their parts, no doubt,” he says. “It will be their points of view and they will go into specifics [things] that they have crossed. But for our part, I hope people enjoy the entertainment element, although it’s also from a very truthful place. The media is very good at creating these huge waves of drama and headlines and memes. It sucks you in, because it’s quite fun. But when you sit down and look at it from a more neutral and normal perspective… you realize they are just people at the end of the day.

“Vardy v Rooney: A Courtroom Drama” begins on Channel 4 at 21.00 on Wednesday 21 December and concludes on Thursday 22 December

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