When I was a schoolboy, there was nothing I enjoyed more than exaggerating a mild sniffle, sloping off school and settling down to another riveting episode of the fictional daytime Granada TV trial, Crown Court. It taught me the thrill and jeopardy of a courtroom drama early. Let’s call it preparatory education for the trials I’ve known and obsessed over since, both fictional and real; an early afternoon apprenticeship in how to later negotiate Ally McBeal, This Life and The Good Wife.
It lent the trials of OJ Simpson, Jeffrey Archer, Martha Stewart, Ghislaine Maxwell and the scintillating possibility of a subpoena putting Prince Andrew’s non-existent sweat glands in the dock a warm, comforting familiarity. By the time I stepped into Southwark Crown Court ten years ago to serve a stint of jury duty, the dread silence of the court room felt as oddly recognisable as the lunchtime chaos of my local Nando’s.
A courtroom is supposed to be a place of certainty in a world of confusion, delivering something beautifully finite in those concluding verdicts of ‘innocent’ and ‘guilty’; organising perspective over our shared values of right and wrong. Court is a morality class dividing the world into pleasing binaries of good and evil, angel and demon, culprit and victim. It all made sense to me back then.
Now, not so much. I was recalling some of those young truanting escapades while waiting in hot anticipation for the arrival of Rebekah Vardy and Colleen Rooney in court this week. As early as day three, their case is a diverting episodic confluence of celebrity and performance, with an unexpected side order of tabloid fodder, including the re-airing of surprising claims about dimensions of Peter Andre’s penis.
The £3million libel stakes lend it a monetary glamour beyond most of our comprehension. The to-ing and fro-ing wars between opposing benches who clearly cannot stand the sight of one another gives it the flavour of an impromptu street scrap. The inclusion of famous sportsmen offers a chance to peak behind the curtains of some unusually gilded domestic lives. The lure of the Wags was always their simultaneous closeness and distance from the rest of us.
Far from binary lessons in good and ill, courtrooms can now feel more like an extended branch of the entertainment industry. There was a genuine gasp of disappointment yesterday when the Netflix cameras following Vardy and Rooney for a forthcoming documentary on the trial failed to show up (hands up, I’ll watch).
You’d have difficulty naming a more compelling, or indeed less edifying TV drama this year than the weeks audiences have spent glued to Amber Heard and Johnny Depp tearing strips out of one another at the stand, with varying degrees of success at sticking to stories.
Those desolate testimonies of two deeply damaged addicts on the witness stand, people with no comprehension of how to love themselves, let alone one another, are tricky to turn away from once fully engaged. By comparison, Rooney vs Vardy feels more localised and soap operatic, albeit one of vintage Brookside quality, as dressed by the WAG favourite Cricket website.
As we consume both stories, with precisely the casual interest we’d extend to a hit show on Apple+ TV, the very idea of guilt and innocence redistributes. Vardy, Rooney, Heard and Depp are real people looking down the barrel of their very real problems in full public display. What if the actual villains here are us, drinking up other folk’s time in the dock for something to float a casual opinion about on Twitter, just for the sake of being heard?
In other news...
There were three amazing reminders this week of the crucial importance of Channel 4’s public service remit. First Cathy Tyson taking to the stand at the Baftas to accept her award for best supporting actress in Help, reminding audiences of Channel 4 as a portal to air the art made by voices previously unheard. As if proving her point, the cast of the channel’s breath-taking drama It’s A Sin, sitting together, a brilliant gang taking their seat at the table, repping hard for queer excellence. Then Will Young: Losing My Twin Rupert aired on Tuesday night, a humbling exploration of addiction, told through the death of Young’s brother with levity, generosity and raw truth. The documentary felt like an arm wrapped around every single family struggling with addiction. It will undoubtedly save lives. In a just world, this display of sheer heart would save the channel single-handedly.