Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) has it all. A Jewish prince living in first-century Jerusalem, he's rich enough not to feel the pinch of Roman oppression. He has a loyal best friend in his adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell), and he's in love with the beautiful Esther (Nanzan Boniadi). Though there are rumours of a rebellion brewing against the Romans, Judah wants nothing to do with it - he's comfortable in the compromises he's made to get along with the authorities.
And then, in a moment, everything changes. Falsely accused of treason, Judah is stripped of his title, separated from his family, and forced into slavery. In the nightmarish ordeal that follows, the only way he can survive is to focus on his hatred for the man who betrayed him: his most trusted friend, Messala. After a dramatic storm sinks the slave ship Judah the ship is chained to sinks. After years at sea Judah returns to his homeland to seek revenge.
This classic story written by Lew Wallace in 1880, was first made into a silent movie in 1925, starring Ramon Novarro in the title role. In 1959 it was given the epic Hollywood treatment with Charlton Heston in the title role and Stephen Boyd as Messala and a cast of thousands. Altogether the film won a record eleven academy awards, and numerous other prizes.
This new adaptation has also been made on a fairly massive scale - although computer graphics would have been used in the big scenes. It is action-packed and very violent in parts. Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell give strong performances as the fated brothers and Morgan Freeman is excellent as a Nubian Sheik who trains Judah to become a charioteer. The focus throughout is much more on the religious aspect of the story than in the earlier movies - Wallace's novel was called: 'Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ' - and the figure of Jesus appears in this new film from the start.
While he is a slave on a Roman galley, Esther has become a follower of the carpenter named Jesus (Rodrigo Santoro). When Judah returns to Jerusalem full of anger and hatred, he may not be a slave any more, but he's still a slave to the past, and to the memory of the worst thing which ever happened to him. Esther tells him, it's only love and faith which can restore us and give us a future. Through a series of encounters with Jesus he is offered a glimpse of an alternative path. Forgiveness might sometimes feel impossible - but perhaps it's the only way to truly break free from our chains.
Ben Hur is being released in the UK on 9 September 2016.
Damaris Media have created a series of free Ben-Hur resources, including exclusive videos and discussion guides for church and youth groups, at http://benhur.damarismedia.com.
See the official trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BmeR9GYdDU
Source: Damaris Media/ICN