Say BEN HUR and people immediately think of the Charlton Heston Hollywood epic: a film full of elaborate sets, huge crowds and epic chariot races. The powers that be decided time was ripe for a new version of the story, albeit in miniseries form, and no doubt to take advantage of the new-found popularity of the historical miniseries after the success of HBO'S ROME.
I for one am a huge fan of such stuff, so I was immediately predisposed to enjoy this outing. I was engaged from the outset: to my shame, I haven't yet seen the Heston film, so watching the story play out was a fresh and involving experience. The total running time is around three hours, and I didn't find that a single moment dragged.
As with many of these productions, the cast is packed with familiar faces. Ben Cross, Alex Kingston, Marc Warren, Art Malik and in particular Ray Winstone all seem to be having a ball with the roles they're provided. Stephen Campbell Moore, as the youthful hero, is sufficiently just, upstanding and likable enough, and watch out for a trio of highly attractive female cast members who ease the viewing experience: Emily Van Camp, Kristin Kreuk and, particularly, Lucia Jimenez.
The budget is high enough for them to film in authentic, sun-drenched locales, with copious use of sets and extras to build a realistic portrait of the times. The use of CGI (such as in the naval battle sequence) is certainly adequate and the final chariot race doesn't disappoint. It's no ROME, but then, what is?
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