There was a time when it looked like MGM would have to sell off everything and stop producing films. Now, with cash flowing in from Skyfall and The Hobbit, the studio is once more hunting for properties like a child running round Hamleys. It now looks like the executives have their beady eye on a new version of Ben Hur.
Though Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ was adapted – by MGM itself – into the iconic, Oscar-scoring 1959 classic starring Charlton Heston, the studio thinks the time has come for a new interpretation. By which we don't mean the little-seen 2010 miniseries.
Though MGM sold the rights to the movie in the 1980s, the book has long since entered the public domain, so the way is clear for this second stab. The Way Back’s Keith Clarke has come up with a spec script that is apparently more faithful to the tome.
This time around, we’ll be treated to 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.
The new film will bear more parallels with the life of Jesus Christ, who Ben-Hur will both meet and be inspired by during his life. “It’s one of the great stories of friendship and betrayal, and faith, that works in the context of a big onscreen action thriller for a global audience,” producer Daniel tells Deadline of the novel. Well, Biblical stories are big right now…