John Ridley Writing The New Ben-Hur

From 12 Years A Slave to three years a slave...

With his work on 12 Years A Slave already much-praised and Oscar-buzzed (along with many elements of the film), writer John Ridley has been hired to write about another famous – albeit fictional – slave, as he’ll turn his attention to the script for MGM’s new version of Ben-Hur.

The film, a new adaptation of Lew Wallace’s 1800 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ, has been in development for nearly a year now, based on a spec script from The Way Back’s Keith Clarke. This last August, director Timur Bekmambetov locked in a deal to call the shots.

Ridley will use Clarke’s drafts to move the screenplay forward, which will attempt to carve out its own take on the story and get out of the shadow of the 1959 Charlton Heston version. It’ll follow more of the younger days of Judah Ben-Hur and Messala, best friends growing up in Jerusalem before the Roman Empire takes over. Ben-Hur is a Jewish prince and Messala is the son of a Roman tax collector sent to be educated in Rome for five years. Upon his return, he mocks our hero for his religion, and, after an accident he pins on his friend, even finds a way for him to be sold into slavery. Cue a quest for revenge that culminates (at least in the Heston film) in the iconic chariot race.

There are also plans to have the character’s journey more closely parallel that of Jesus (as in the novel), and for him to meet and be inspired by Christ. MGM and the producers want this one ready to shoot early next year. 12 Years A Slave, meanwhile, arrives in the UK on January 24.