Tom Hiddleston is being courted to play the lead role in an ambitious remake of the biblical epic Ben-Hur, reports Deadline.
Wanted director Timur Bekmambetov was announced as the man to take the new version forward in 2013, after studio MGM bought screenwriter Keith Clarke’s adaptation of Lew Wallace’s popular 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. The screenplay has since been revised by 12 Years a Slave’s Oscar-winning writer John Ridley.
Hiddleston is said to be MGM and partner studio Paramount’s top choice to play Judah Ben-Hur, the fictional Jewish prince introduced in Wallace’s novel and portrayed by Charlton Heston in the 1959 blockbuster. He has been approached by the studio, but has not yet agreed to sign on.
While Hiddleston has made a name for himself with supporting turns in Thor and The Avengers, Bekmambetov’s film would mark his first major Hollywood title role. However, the British actor is also considering another film for MGM, the literary adaptation Me Before You, based on Jojo Moyes’ bestselling novel.
The 1959 Ben-Hur centres on the friendship and subsequent falling-out between the title character and his childhood Roman friend Messala, who returns home to Jerusalem after five years of education in Rome to ask his old friend to inform on the Jewish people. When Ben-Hur refuses, he finds himself falsely accused of an attack on the Roman governor and sold into slavery as a chained oarsman on a warship. He later returns home and rebuilds his life as a chariot racer, vowing revenge on the man who betrayed him.
Wallace’s novel also features a subplot involving Jesus Christ, which is expected to feature prominently in Bekmambetov’s film as producers seek to court US faith audiences. The earlier film’s director, William Wyler, chose not to show Jesus’s face in deference to contemporary views on the representation of Christ.
The new Ben-Hur does not yet have a release date, but Hollywood is showing an ever-increasing appetite for epic films with biblical overtones. Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, starring Russell Crowe as the antediluvian patriarch, took $359m (£215.1m) globally earlier this year, while Ridley Scott’s Exodus, featuring Christian Bale as Moses, hits cinemas on both sides of the Atlantic in December.