MGM acquires drama adventure spec script “Ben-Hur” from writer Keith Clarke. From Deadline:
This film will tell the formative story of the characters as they 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. Messala mocks Judah and his religion and 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 it 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 doesn’t die, and vows revenge on Messala which, like in the films, culminates in the famed chariot races. There is another way the script differs from the movie, in that it will tell the parallel tale of Jesus Christ, with whom Ben-Hur has several encounters which moves him to become a believer in the Messiah, and which culminates in Christ being sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate. Intertwined in all this is the lifelong struggle between Ben-Hur and Messala.
The depiction of Jesus Christ as an occasional character in the script puts this project squarely in the mix of Biblical-themed films that are proliferating at studios around town. They include Pontius Pilate, which now has Brad Pitt attached to the Vera Blasi-scripted Warner Bros project; two films about Moses that Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott are separately circling; and the Darren Aronofsky-directed Noah, which stars Russell Crowe.
To answer the question on your mind: The book is in the public domain, therefore free for anyone to adapt.
Clarke is repped by D.J. Talbot.
By my count, this is 2nd spec script sale of 2013.
Last year at this time, there were 5 spec sales.