'Ben-Hur' chariot filling up

Joseph Morgan, Emily VanCamp and Stephen Campbell Moore are starring in "Ben-Hur," a four-hour miniseries produced and financed by Alchemy Television Group.

Steven Shill, helmer of surprise boxoffice hit "Obsessed," is directing the adaptation of the 1880 Lew Wallace novel from a script by Alan Sharp ("Rob Roy"). Production begins this week in Ouarzazate, Morocco.

Morgan will play the title role immortalized by Charlton Heston in the 1959 movie -- a wealthy Jewish youth in the time of Jesus Christ -- who is seeking revenge and reclaiming his identity after being betrayed by his friend, Messala (Moore). VanCamp plays Esther, the daughter of a slave and Ben-Hur's love interest.

Also in the cast are Ray Winstone as Ben-Hur's adoptive father, Kristen Kruek ("Smallville") as his sister and Hugh Bonneville as Pontius Pilate.

Alex Kingston, Lucia Jimenez, Miguel Angel Munoz, Marc Warren, Art Malik and James Faulkner round out the cast of the project, budgeted at north of $22 million.

The mini, which is competing against the memory of the William Wyler-directed Oscar-winning classic, will include the famous chariot race, which will shoot in an oasis in the Moroccan desert.

Wyler's son, David Wyler, is exec producing the mini with Manuel Corbi, Michael Prupas, Frank Konigsberg and Dirk Beinhold. Spain's Drimtim Entertainment, Canada's Muse Entertainment and Morocco's Zak Prods. are co-producing with Alchemy and Germany's Akkord Films.

In addition to ABC, "Ben-Hur" will air on Canada's CBC, Spain's Antenna 3 and Germany's ProSieben.

Peter Oberth
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