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Thursday 26 April 2018

Ben-Hur 'gay sub-plot' not necessary in 2016, says star Toby Kebbell

British actor Toby Kebbell at the premiere of Ben-Hur in Los Angeles (AP)
British actor Toby Kebbell at the premiere of Ben-Hur in Los Angeles (AP)

One of the British stars of Ben-Hur has said the new film did not need to repeat the apparent gay sub-plot of the Oscar-winning epic starring Charlton Heston.

Toby Kebbell, who plays Messala in the latest adaptation, said the 1959 version - which won a record 11 Oscars - was made at a time when "the gay context was very important".

Claims of homosexual overtones in 1959's Ben-Hur emerged after the late screenwriter Gore Vidal said the title character - played by Heston - and Messala - played by Stephen Boyd - were former lovers. Heston reportedly dismissed the claim.

Speaking at the premiere in Los Angeles, Kebbell told the Press Association: "It wasn't something we avoided but it wasn't something we had.

"In 1959, the gay context was very important. They need a voice. You shouldn't have to hide in the dark about something you feel and you're grown with.

"That was their own thing they wanted to portray and we didn't need to. It's a different time, thankfully."

Northern Irish actress Roma Downey, a producer on Ben-Hur, said she was not sure whether there was truth in claims that the 1959 film had a gay sub-plot.

"I don't even know if that was true in that film," she said.

"Here we have two brothers. They love each other. They're raised in the same household and it's so tragic to see their family just ripped apart."

She added: "There's certainty a boldness in taking on a beloved classic. We felt the time was right. It's almost 60 years since the Charlton Heston film. There's a whole generation that has never even seen the film.

"My own kids, when I told them I was going to be working on Ben-Hur, they said 'Ben who?' We just think this is the right time."

British actor Jack Huston plays Ben-Hur in the new film, which also stars Morgan Freeman and Rodrigo Santoro who portrays Jesus.

:: Ben-Hur is due for release in cinemas in the UK on September 7.

Press Association

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