Once a novel has already been adapted into a classic film, there’s understandably a lot of pushback against any attempts at another adaptation after that. Such is the case with Ben-Hur, the 1959 adaptation of Lew Wallace’s “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ”, which starred Charlton Heston as the eponymous Judah Ben-Hur, a wealthy Jewish merchant who is condemned to slavery by his childhood friend, Messala, a commander of the Roman garrison.
Ben-Hur held the record for most Academy Awards for decades, which means that the upcoming revamp from Night Watch director Timur Bekmambetov has quite a legacy to live up to. The spec script by Keith Clarke has recently been given a re-write by Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave screenwriter John Ridley; though, with an acting legend like Heston currently best known as the face of Judah Ben-Hur, what the movie really needs is a modern actor with the amount of screen presence necessary to lead this new adaptation.
According to Deadline, MGM and Paramount Pictures seem to have decided on just the right man for the job. Tim Hiddleston, who plays Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and earlier this year starred alongside Mark Gatiss in a new production of Coriolanus (pictured above) is reportedly being courted to play the lead role.
Of course, the fact that Hiddleston is being pursued for the role doesn’t necessarily mean that he will end up taking it. The actor’s popularity means that he’s highly in-demand, and Deadline reports that he is also wanted for MGM project Me Before You. His upcoming roles include a leading part in Guillermo del Toro’s gothic horror Crimson Peak, country music singer Hank Williams in biopic I Saw the Light, and protagonist Robert Laing in J.G. Ballard adaptation High-Rise.
The Biblical epic is certainly trying to make a comeback in Hollywood right now, with Darren Aronofsky’s lavish production of Noah pleasing critics earlier this year and Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings gearing up for release this winter. While not strictly a Biblical story, Ben-Hur does see its main character crossing paths with Jesus Christ at several points in the story and has heavily religious themes (hence the subtitle of the book).
There are still quite a few months to go before production begins on Ben-Hur, so don’t be surprised if a few more names get thrown into the casting pool before then. If MGM and Paramount are able to secure Hiddleston for the lead role, however, it could be just the boost needed to redeem this project in the eyes of a skeptical public.
Ben-Hur is set for release on February 26th, 2016.