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Roma Downey Says New "Ben-Hur" Brings a Timely Message
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A newly reimagined version of the classic film Ben-Hur hits theaters nationwide on August 19, 2016. Bursting with action—including the famous chariot race—and featuring Christian themes of justice, liberty and radical forgiveness, it tells the classic story of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell), an officer in the Roman army. Stripped of his title and separated from his family and the woman he loves (Nazanin Boniadi), Judah is forced into slavery and despair.

After years at sea, a breathtaking turn of events sends Judah on an epic journey back to his homeland to seek revenge, where a chance encounter with Jesus of Nazareth (Rodrigo Santoro) transforms his life and leads him to discover grace, mercy and ultimately, redemption. The film also stars Morgan Freeman in an unforgettable performance as a wealthy sheik who trains Ben Hur to be a charioteer.

Based on Lew Wallace's timeless novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, this modern take on the powerful classic brings a timely message, says Roma Downey, who is one of the film's executive producers, along with her husband, Mark Burnett (The Bible, "Survivor," "The Voice," "Shark Tank").

The former "Touched By An Angel" star shared with The Gospel Herald how the movie's message of forgiveness and reconciliation is so needed in "such a time as this," with all of the conflict and social unrest around the world. "It is our hope and prayer in that moment of (forgiveness) that this message (inspired by the words of Jesus himself) will resonate out to our country and out to the world," she said.

In September 2013, Timur Bekmambetov was hired to direct the film. He was initially reluctant to direct and didn't wish to tackle a film whose 1959 predecessor won 11 Academy Awards and is known as one of history's greatest films. However, he says, "I read the script. And suddenly I understood this story is not what I expected. It's not a remake, it's an interpretation of the famous book."

And though this adaptation's central themes are love, betrayal and redemption, action fans will be thrilled by a big battle at sea, as well as the epic chariot race, which promises to be more exciting than ever. Filming for the race lasted 45 days in a span of three months, and 20 chariots were used. Lead actors Huston and Kebbell spent two and a half months learning how to drive chariots, and stuntmen and computer imagery were only used for the extremely dangerous stunts.

"What an honor it will be to help bring this epic film back to the big screen," says Mark Burnett. "General Lew Wallace's Ben-Hur is one of the most important Christian works of fiction ever written."

Watch the official movie trailer here: