Emmerdale fans should expect a week of high drama and tension as the rape trial of Pierce Harris gets underway.
The trial will air every night as Rhona Kirk desperately tries to get justice while Pierce does all he can to escape a prison sentence.
As the showdown unfolds poor Rhona will come under intense pressure on the stand as Pierce’s legal team pull out all the stops to discredit her.
But as the case draws to a close Rhona finds herself on the back foot and decides to confront Pierce once and for all.
Here Zoe Henry, who plays Rhona, says her character’s court ordeal is like being violated all over again.
How does Rhona feel as the trial gets underway?
It goes very well with the prosecution – as you would imagine – but his defence lawyer absolutely annihilates her. His lawyer is an actress called Stirling Gallacher who I’ve known for years and have worked with her, she’s brilliant. It’s right that they cast a woman because apparently it’s very common in this situation, in sexual assault cases. So it becomes quite clear that Rhona’s losing it and the jury are wavering almost immediately. Then there are a few other things that happen, Vanessa tries her best to help but actually ends up making things a whole lot worse. So, but the end of day two, I think we’re in court for five days on screen, and by the end of the second day I think the audience will be thinking: ‘That’s not looking good for her.’ And it isn’t, it really isn’t. But that’s a good defence lawyer, isn’t it?
There’s a sex tape of Pierce and Rhona, how is he going to use that against her?
It sounds seedy. It sounds like you’ve been up to no good. It’s a slur on anybody’s name and she’s a professional woman with a business to run so there’s all that side of it for her as well and he knows that. He knows what he’s doing.
It shouldn’t really be relevant, should it? That doesn’t mean he didn’t rape her?
That’s his argument. Basically, he’s saying it was consensual sex – it was rough, here’s the sex tape, we like rough sex, she’s quite happy about that – here’s what we do. We had sex, and then she realised she couldn’t go through with our marriage, even though we’d already got married, and it all came out that there had been a kiss with Paddy but you were ok with it. Rhona decided she couldn’t go through with the marriage and that she was going to take him to the cleaners, so he’s reversed it all and said that it wasn’t rape and she left me. So that’s the argument really. It’s really cleverly constructed. The defence lawyer doesn’t just annihilate Rhona with the sex tape and the photographs, but she annihilates everybody that goes in the dock. You know, Vanessa crumbles, even Jimmy and Marlon, it couldn’t go any worse for Rhona really.
Is she humiliated?
Yeah, but she’s prepared for that. But what she’s not prepared for, so she knows the sex tape is not going to be shown – she’s gets told that the morning of, which is a relief but it is referenced. But what she’s not prepared for is how the defence twist it and say: ‘Well, you have had rough sex before.’ And there’s these photographs of her from the SARC centre, so there are pictures of bruises on her wrists, and there are pictures of her knees, and pictures of her back and the injuries that were sustained from the alleged rape. But the defence twist it in such a way to say: ‘But you have a history of rough sex with this man, because there is a sex tape to prove that. So are you telling me you haven’t received bruises before?’ And she kind of goes: ‘*sighs* well yeah, I have.’ The rug just gets whipped from under her. It actually goes far worse.
Is it almost like she’s violated again?
Yeah, totally. They raise the subject of his very attractive – now ex-girlfriend – used to go running in the woods with him. Were you not worried? If you were worried this man was overbearing why did you let your girlfriend go running in the woods with him? It’s really cleverly done.
Rhona confronts Pierce in the court house – is that a game changer?
It’s total opportunistic moment really, she comes through the door and he comes out of the lift and she sees him go into an empty room and thinks, ‘Well it’s now or never really. This is going so badly that actually doing what I’m about to do can’t possibly make it any worse.’ So she goes in, he’s on his own and she shuts the door and locks it and says, ‘I want to hear you say it’. So that’s where she’s kind of at, at that point and things are awful. Vanessa’s really screwed up, she feels like she’s screwed up as well after the way the defence lawyer was with her, so she’s just like, ‘Well to hell with it. I just want to hear him say it. If that’s all I’m going to get from this awful experience then I’ll take it because it’s better than nothing.’ She’s quite bold with him, considering what she’s been through and what’s going on. But that morning Leo finds the necklace that Pierce ripped off her during the rape scene and if you remember it was given to her by Paddy and it holds pictures of Leo. So it’s actually turned up in all this stalking stuff anyway. It appears on the table and it freaks her out so she’s obviously put it away and then leo stumbles across it and gives it to her and there’s a moment where she looks at it and thinks, ‘Oh my God this holds so many awful memories’ and then she kind of gathers strength from it and goes, ‘You know what, I’m going to put that on a new chain and I am going to wear that today’. So she’s got that on. I dunno, there’s just something about that – it could have been any other minute in that day and she wouldn’t have had the balls to go through with it, confronting him, but just that moment, she just goes with her instincts.
Do you hope that the storyline will encourage real victims to come forward?
Yeah, undoubtedly. We’ve had some really positive responses and I know the show has in general in terms of that and it’s great. It’s incredible to think that people watch what we do whatever story we’re telling and it impacts on them in such a way. So yes, of course, that would be the best thing.
Who’s Rhona going to need to rely on in the wake of the trial, whatever the outcome?
I think she’s wary of leaning on anybody because she’s treated people so badly, not intentionally obviously but you know… ignoring Vanessa and falling out with her over this but like we’ve said this before she is a strong woman. I think that’s why this character was chosen for this story because it’s important to show that this kind of thing can happen to anybody, professional or not, strong or not. I think she’s going to have to rebuild her confidence and her strength but she will need those people around her, particularly Marlon and Paddy and Vanessa without question. That core group, that gang, that gang that you were never part of Pierce.
Is there anyway back for Pierce?
That’s a good question because we’ve often talked about this – does somebody’s history allow you to forgive that sort of behaviour, this is the thing? I don’t know, genuinely. How would the audience feel?
Are you glad the storyline’s coming to an end?
I’m tired, I’m not going to lie to you, he’s got smaller kids than I have and I’m tired and one of mine is nearly a teenager and the other’s not. But I understand, as an actor, and I don’t know if you agree, but the golden periods or golden shows where it just all feels right and you meet lovely people and you get to work with great actors and I think for me whatever happens to Rhona and whatever happens to me in the rest of my career, I will always look back at this 20 months – two years as a real golden period and i have thoroughly enjoyed it. i think it’s been well written, I’ve absolutely loved working with Jonny, continuing to work with Jonny, so it’s a double-edged sword isn’t it? I’m tired but I am genuinely gutted that it’s coming to a close.
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