2 June 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network
"You literally could not make this up;" Producer Julie Ryan discusses the making of Vardy v Rooney: A Courtroom Drama for Channel 4
21 Dec 2022 : Nathan Griffin
Vardy v Rooney: A Courtroom Drama
Ahead of the release of Channel 4’s new drama centred around the “#WagathaChristie” trial between Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy, Irish producer Julie Ryan of MK1 Productions took some time to speak with IFTN about the making of Vardy v Rooney: A Courtroom Drama.

The first episode in the two-part drama-documentary airs on Channel 4 this Wednesday, December 21st at 9pm.

Vardy v Rooney: A Courtroom Drama is made by Chalkboard (Logan High, Cold Call & One Question, Murder, Mystery and My Family). The factual drama was commissioned for Channel 4 by commissioning editor Tim Hancock with Head of Factual Entertainment, Alf Lawrie. Tom Popay is executive producer for Chalkboard and Julie Ryan for MK1 Productions, with Oonagh Kearney (Five Letters) directing and Chris Atkins (Who Killed the KLF) writing.

“We’re all incredibly excited for the show to air this week,” Ryan tells IFTN. “The show broadcasts the most seismic moments of a riveting libel trial that trended globally, and it continues to stoke the fires of digital and public discourse.”

Back in July, Channel 4 commissioned UK production company Chalkboard to create a dramatic reconstruction of the Rebekah Vardy v Coleen Rooney court case, while it was only fresh in the memory of the public. Ryan, whose production company MK1 Productions has a strong relationship with Chalkboard and sister company Clapperboard, was on board as soon as she heard about the project. “When we spoke about this show being in the works, I was immediately intrigued and although we had already produced 3 shows together this year; I was immediately drawn to this show and it’s subject matter,” says Ryan.

Incredibly, the series moved from pitch to completion over the space of six months. “The show was pitched in late May, commissioned in June from the concept, filmed end of August and delivered in November. The time pressure was incredibly intense,” explains Ryan

The process involved turning 1,261 pages and 261,078 words worth of court transcripts into two one-hour episodes of TV with legal restraints. “In a sense, it would have been much easier if dialogue could have been written but we could not deviate from the transcripts, so it was a puzzle with so many different outcomes in terms of how we would create the two episodes that would best service the telling of the trial,” says Ryan.

Due to the volume of transcript pages involved with the case, an editorial decision was made by the production team to shoot the project from the perspective of the two protagonists’ time in the witness box, in an effort to focus the drama of the high-profile trial. “We had multiple versions of the script before we settled on this format whilst working incredibly close with the channel commissioners,” Ryan explains.

“We didn’t want to rush the scripting process even though we were incredibly tight on time. We knew one thing; that the vast majority would be in a courtroom so we were able to then start the process of pre-production. As the scripts came together, we felt that we need to also get outside the courtroom into the time of those all-important text messages.”

The scandal first emerged as a viral thread online in 2019 when Coleen Rooney publicly shared her collected evidence over social media, accusing Rebekah Vardy of leaking private information about the Rooney family to the press. The two-part programme aims to capture what ensued, as the pair entered a high stakes High Court defamation case that had a huge impact on the lives of the two women. The case also catapulted the two sparring legal teams into the spotlight, where much like Rooney and Vardy, their every move in the courtroom was dissected and scrutinised in the press.

Although the trial took place in the UK, the  tight turnaround for the Channel 4 production led to the decision to film the two part series on location in Budapest. “Budapest is an excellent filming location and I had filmed a show there before so I knew how to set up a show there very quickly as well,” Ryan explains.

“I would have loved to have filmed this in Ireland but due to the time restraints, there wasn’t enough time to set up this show in Ireland and we had just filmed two shows back to back here.”

Ryan was however able to inject some Irish influence into the production through the recruitment of director Oonagh Kearney, who helmed the series. “Oonagh is an incredible director and person. I hadn’t worked with Oonagh before, but we were on each other’s radar,” tells Ryan. “I had a sense that her sensibilities and talent could make this show shine and it just felt like the right fit. We’ve had an intense whirlwind of a 6 months and I couldn’t imagine a better person to be in the trenches with.”

Kearney was in fact only after finishing her first trimester when Ryan first approached her with the idea, something Ryan met with excitement and the pair worked a schedule that could cater to both the production and Kearney’s pregnancy. “Oonagh remembers when she told me and how I was so happy for her which of course I was, it’s a wonderful thing. I also remember the moment I told my co-producer Mike Benson on another show when I was pregnant and how genuinely happy he was for me. You don’t forget these little moments,” Ryan recounts.

“I was scared then, probably just like Oonagh was, but working through my pregnancy was absolutely manageable with the right support so I knew we could do the same for Oonagh. It turns out literally Oonagh was the one picking us all up along the journey!”

Ryan was also involved in hiring the services of cinematographer Evan Barry and writer Michael Foott, who assisted lead writer Chris Atkins on episode two while working on the series, as well as Irish based script executive Matt Henderson who works for MK1 Productions.

Any courtroom drama also relies heavily on the talent in front of the camera, and back in October Channel 4 confirmed a strong cast that included BAFTA-winning actress Chanel Cresswell (This is England,) who stars as Coleen Rooney and Natalia Tena (Harry Potter) playing opposite her as fellow WAG, Rebekah Vardy. 

Primetime Emmy nominated actor Michael Sheen (Good Omens, Quiz) was cast as Coleen Rooney’s high profile barrister David Sherborne and Simon Coury (The Professor and the Madman) plays Rebekah’s barrister, Hugh Tomlinson QC (now KC), while Wayne Rooney is played by Dion Lloyd and Jamie Vardy is played by Márton Nagyszokolyai. 

“We were incredibly lucky to secure Michael Sheen, Chanel Cresswell, Natalia Tena and Simon Coury. Immediately, I knew Simon was perfect for this role of the Oxford Don Hugh Tomilson and everyone agreed,” says Ryan. “We auditioned far and wide for the perfect Vardy and Rooney and were delighted when Chanel and Natalia accepted the parts, as they showed such a great understanding of both woman in their portrayals. Michael is rich with experience and watching his process was amazing for all of us. He brought the character of Sherborne to life with a twinkle in his eye.”

In terms of what people can expect from the series, Ryan tells IFTN: “The show was created to gives audiences full exposure to what really happened inside the courtroom, and significantly, our societal response so we witness how Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney fare under intense questioning. We wanted to captivate the world of these two incredibly strong woman who have both been through a lot in their lives. We wanted to show a fair portrayal of the trial. With regards to the transcript,  you literally could not make this up.”

The first episode of Vardy v Rooney: A Courtroom Drama airs on Channel 4 this Wednesday, December 21st at 9pm.

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