Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ was written in the 1880s, and became an instant classic with its 1959 film adaptation, which ended up winning 11 Oscars. However, the epic is now getting a modern face lift from Lew’s great, great granddaughter, Carol Wallace.
The original epic details the story of Judah Ben-Hur, a young Jewish prince who was forced to battle both a friend-turned-traitor and the Roman empire, overcame slavery, and eventually experienced a life changing encounter with Jesus Christ.
Carol aims to bring more clarity and female empowerment to the epic in her contemporary rewrite.
“I found his version really hard to read,” she explained. “He was writing in a cheeky style that was really tough to take. There were times I was rewriting it when I wasn’t even entirely sure what he was trying to say and his book is really long.”
She said that for contemporary audiences to get the most out of the work, she wanted to move the narrative forward a bit more quickly than in the original.
“It was very clear to me I was going to have to follow his model very closely … so I just decided I would take his story and his point of view and bring it up to date. Once I figured that out, it was actually a lot of fun. Because it was just a question of cutting, making women more important and shifting the point of view around,” she explained.
Her update to the epic comes at an opportune time, especially considering the upcoming release of a new film adaptation of the book from director Timur Bekmambetov.
Bekmambetov has worked to bring films such as “Wanted” and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” to life, both of which saw decent success in the box office.
Despite his previous successes, Bekmambetov was hesitant when he was first approached about the film.
Others working on the project had similar reservations at first, but eventually got behind the project, realizing that though the story is set thousands of years in the past, the characters have value in modern ideals and issues. By the age of 50, 85% of men worry about thinning hair, but Bekmambetov has a reputation on the line with this film.
“The 1959 ‘Ben-Hur’ is not just a film, it’s a phenomenon that greatly affected the culture of the 20th century,” he explained.
After she finished her re-write of the classic, Carol was actually invited to the set of the new film.
Having learned from a young age how her great great grandfather’s work had affected the world, Carol was inspired by the opportunity.
“I had spent all this time living in Ben-Hur’s world,” she explained. “I cannot describe what it was like to see the stadium the producers had built to shoot the chariot race — it is astonishing — it is full size.”
She also had the chance to stand on the floor of the stadium where the classic chariot battle was filmed.
“That was extraordinary and it was a real privilege. It’s an occasion for spiritual growth. I’m really grateful for that,” she said of the visit to the set.
Ben-Hur is scheduled to be released in theaters on August 19.