It’s cricket season, I’m told, so here’s a cricket-themed question on the subject du jour: who would you go in to bat for, Team Johnny or Team Amber?

Perhaps cricket isn’t quite the right metaphor here. I’m also told it is a game in which certain standards of decorum are expected and (generally) maintained. But from what I can see there isn’t much about John C Depp II v Amber Laura Heard, a legal case ongoing in front of a seven person jury in Virginia’s Fairfax County Courthouse, which could be described as decorous. No, this courtroom drama between the Pirates Of The Caribbean star and his ex-wife looks more like a bare knuckle fight. Low and dirty and no holds barred.

Try this. Taking the stand on Thursday, Heard (the defendant) alleged that Depp (the plaintiff) once sexually assaulted her with a bottle. “I’m looking in his eyes and I don’t see him anymore,” she said. “It wasn’t him, it was black. I haven’t been so scared in my life.” This was in Australia in 2015, during the filming of Pirates Of The Caribbean 5. Depp strongly denies the allegation.

Or this. Around the same time as that incident, Depp lost the tip of his bird-flipping right middle finger and also had cuts and bruises to his face photographed by his personal body guard at the guard’s insistence. Depp claimed the finger injury was caused by Heard throwing a vodka bottle at him. She alleged it was because he smashed a mobile phone against a wall in a fit of anger (there is a lot of phone smashing in her testimony). Either way, it ended up with Depp in hospital and his personal doctor searching the rented house for the missing bit of digit. A finger-tip search, if you will. It was eventually located.

Or how about this: on a private flight from Boston to Los Angeles a year earlier, Heard alleged that Depp was rude and threw ice cubes at her. Here’s what she says happened next: “I walk away from him, my back is turned and I feel this boot in my back. He just kicked me in the back … No-one said anything, no-one did anything. You could hear a pin drop on that plane, you could feel the tension.”

Those are three examples from last week’s proceedings. But there are plenty more like them, from the audio recordings of Depp insulting Heard to his explanation that a series of tweets between him and actor Paul Bettany in which he wrote about burning and drowning his wife were a joke referencing a Monty Python sketch.


Amber Heard in consultation with her legal team on April 14

Incredibly, the whole thing is live-streamed on something called the Law & Crime Network (“the leading network dedicated to live trials, all the time”). Don’t touch that dial, as they probably don’t say before they go to commercials: still to come are appearances by big name witnesses such as actor James Franco and Elon Musk, with whom Heard was in a relationship for a short time.

If it feels like we’ve been reliving this case for years now – that we are in some weird Law & Crime Network loop – it’s because we have and we are. Here’s the back story: Johnny Depp and Amber Heard met in 2009 on the set of The Rum Diary, an adaptation of a novel by Depp’s friend, notorious ‘gonzo’ journalist Hunter S Thompson. Heard, then 23, played Depp’s love interest. The couple began dating in 2012, immediately after Depp’s split from French singer and actress Vanessa Paradis, and married in a civil ceremony in February 2015 in the Bahamas. The bride wore white. So did the groom. So far, so beatific.

Trouble followed soon, though, and with it came the lawyers. In May 2016, a mere 15 months after the nuptials, Heard filed for divorce. She claimed Depp had been verbally and physically abusive throughout the relationship, often while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and was granted a temporary restraining order against him. Referenced in her court declaration at the time were photographs, taken in December 2015, showing her with a facial bruise. She claimed her husband had headbutted her. At the time of the ruling, Depp was on tour with his band The Hollywood Vampires (him, Alice Cooper, Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagen: you get the drift) and preparing for a gig in a Danish venue called The Prison.

Depp’s lawyer fired back, stating that Heard was “attempting to secure a premature financial resolution by alleging abuse”. Then, in August 2016, the pair released a joint statement saying their relationship “was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love. Neither party has made false accusations for financial gain. There was never any intent of physical or emotional harm.”

It went quiet then – or what passes for quiet in this intensely passionate and at times volatile relationship – until the Sun newspaper ran a headline in March 2018 referring to Depp as a “wife beater”, questioning his right to a place in Harry Potter spin-off series Fantastic Beasts, and claiming he had abused Heard. Depp sued the paper and the journalist in question, Dan Wootton. And so, last July, the media circus that was Depp v News Group Newspapers rolled up at the High Court in London where it was heard before Justice Nicol. Depp lost, the beak finding the paper’s claims to be “substantially true” and adding: “I have found that the great majority of alleged assaults of Ms Heard by Mr Depp have been proved to the civil standard.”

What caused this month’s return to the courtroom was an article Heard wrote in The Washington Post in December 2018 headlined ‘I spoke up against sexual violence – and faced our culture’s wrath’. She didn’t mention Depp by name, but she wrote that as “a public figure representing domestic abuse” she had “the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse”. Again, Depp sued, this time claiming damages of $50 million (£40 million) against Heard. She countersued for $100 million (£81 million) – I take your suit and double it! – and so now we are where we are. The trial is in Virginia because (get this) it’s where the Washington Post’s servers are located.

Talking of the digital sphere, here’s that same opening question but phrased a different way. Whose name goes on the end of your #JusticeFor___ hashtag? Consider it well.

On the face of it – 36-year-old actress makes horrific allegations against older, more established actor and has photographs and audio to back them up – you would imagine most people’s lights would turn Amber. But that doesn’t seem to be how this is playing out, particularly online. And especially on social media.

After the High Court in London, a petition calling for Heard to be axed from Aquaman sequel The Lost Kingdom attracted over two million signatures. There’s a Justice For Johnny website selling t-shirts and (ironic perhaps?) phone covers. Someone at website Buzzfeed even counted the respective ‘Justice For’ ¬¬hashtags on Facebook and found 1600 for Depp, with a further seven million shares and likes, but only 16 in support of Heard, with 10,000 shares and likes. And here’s the killer fact, at least if you view TikTok as the arbiter of the public mood: up to the end of April, videos on the platform tagged in favour of Heard had 21 million views, while those in favour of Depp had racked up five billion. Go figure.

In cyberspace, then, the verdict’s going Johnny’s way, which perhaps explains why plugged-in kids are veering towards him and un-plugged oldies like me are not. Who’s right? I honestly don’t know. But I do know that, though the sums in question are massive, Depp v Heard is not a zero sum game. There is going to be no winner.