EXCLUSIVE: MGM, Paramount and Timur Bekmambetov set a February 26, 2016, release date on an epic remake of Ben-Hur; have they found their chariot driver in Tom Hiddleston? I hear that he’s the one the studios are courting to play Judah Ben-Hur in the adaptation of the 1880 Lew Wallace novel Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ, which was the biggest-selling novel of its time until it was eclipsed by Gone With The Wind.
Hiddleston isn’t being fitted for a toga just yet. He has other projects vying for his services, including the MGM pic Me Before You. Keith Clarke, who scripted the Peter Weir-directed The Way Back, wrote the script that MGM pounced on after that company got ambitious following its emergence from bankruptcy and huge hits in Skyfall and The Hobbit. Mark Burnett and Roma Downey joined Sean Daniel and Joni Levin as producers, with Clarke and Jason Brown exec producing. Oscar-winning 12 Years A Slave scribe John Ridley wrote the last draft.
MGM released the 1959 Charlton Heston-toplined Ben-Hur, as well as the 1925 silent film Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ. That doesn’t mean much here, after all the library strip mining done by Kirk Kerkorian in the 1980s. Wallace’s book is public domain, and that makes it possible. Pic leans heavier on the book than did William Wyler’s film, playing up a parallel storyline involving Jesus Christ. That’s juxtaposed by the blood feud between Judah Ben-Hur and Messala, who grew up best friends before the Roman Empire took control of Jerusalem. Judah Ben-Hur was a Jewish prince and Messala the son of a Roman tax collector. After the latter leaves to be educated in Rome for five years, the young man returns with a different attitude and mocks Judah and his religion. When a procession passes by Judah’s house and a roof tile accidentally falls and hits the governor, Messala betrays his childhood friend and manipulates the accident so that Judah is sold into slavery and certain death on a Roman warship, with his mother and sister thrown in prison for life. Judah vows revenge, culminating in the famed chariot races.
Hiddleston seems an ideal choice. Long thought of as a classical actor in parlor dramas, he remade himself as a global action star thanks to his work as the charismatic anti-hero Loki in the Thor and The Avengers films. Stay tuned.