film review

Review | Ben-Hur – 1959

If you want to have a lazy Sunday on the couch, you might want to consider watching the three-hour-long classic Ben-Hur from 1959. It’s one of my favourite classic films and I can’t wait to see the upcoming reboot with Jack Huston in the title role. I hope they don’t ruin the story!

Ben-Hur tells the story about the young affluent Jewish man Judah Ben-Hur, who lives in Nazareth, Jerusalem. Ben-Hur grew up with the young Roman boy Messala, who eventually becomes the governor of the region. Messala hopes to get the very religious residents of Nazareth on the side of the Roman Empire, but therefore needs the help of his old friend Ben-Hur. Ben-Hur however, sees this as betraying his people and his faith. This is the beginning of a conflict between the two former friends. But it really gets out of hand when a group of Roman soldiers enters Nazareth while many people are waiting for them. Somehow a rock falls on a very important Roman soldier, which Judah Ben-Hur is blamed and enslaved for. But Ben-Hur is a tough man and out for revenge.


During a very memorable scene on a galley – “ramming speed” -, Ben-Hur gets the chance to escape and save an important Roman leader, Quintus Arrius, from drowning. To thank Ben-Hur, he gives him back his freedom which gives Ben-Hur finally the chance to challenge Messala in the chariot races. In the meantime Jesus makes an appearance and speaks to the people. However, the Romans are not happy with Jesus’ actions and therefore start a hunt on him and his followers, the Christians. When Judah Ben-Hur witnesses the crucifixion of Jesus, they recognize each other from an earlier encounter when Ben-Hur was a slave and in need of water. After the death of Jesus, Ben-Hur’s family is cured of their disease and all ends well.

The film from 1959 is based on the novel written by Lew Wallace and is calles ‘Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ’. It’s the third and probably the most famous adaptation of this story and also the most succesful version. The film, directed by William Wyler, won 11 Oscars. Including Best film, actor, director, music and costume. The film was also popular at the Golden Globes where it won the award for Best film as well. The title role is played by Charlton Heston, also known from the film ‘The Ten Commandments’. Other important roles are for Jack Hawkins as the Roman governor Quintus Arrius, Stephen Boyd as Messala, Haya Harareet as Esther – Ben-Hur’s lover and former house slave – and Hugh Griffith as Sheik Ilderim, the man who learns Ben-Hur the art of chariot races. For his performance Ilderim won an Oscar in the category best supporting actor.

That the story of the Prince Judah Ben-Hur is still very popular, is proven by the fact that a remake will appear in cinemas this August with the same title and based on the same book written by Lew Wallace. Therefore I highly recommend to read the book as well. In the 2016 version, Jack Huston (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) plays the part of the Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur. A few years back – 2010 – a tv mini-series was made with Joseph Morgan (The Originals) in the lead role. Actor Charlton Heston has contributed his voice in 2003 to a Ben-Hur animation, where he  – of course – voiced Judah Ben-Hur. Enough opportunities to enjoy the story before the remake will appear in cinemas, hoping it will be just as good as the original. Charlton Heston gave a great performance all those years back and definitely deserved the Oscar he won! 


Other great aspects of the film, besides the storyline and acting, is the music – composed by Miklós Rózsa – the setting and the costumes. It’s not surprising that these aspects won Oscars in the respective categories. The only point of criticism, is that the film can be tedious sometime. But with a duration of three and a half hours, it’s almost negligible. In the year of 1959, Ben-Hur definitely was a highlight. But with the new techniques and methods to make a film, Iook very forward to see the remake!

The classic Ben-Hur from 1959 is a timeless film with a theme that never grows old. The film won 11 Oscars, which is equivalent to the films Titanic and the third film in the Lord of the Rings-series. Charlton Heston gave an impeccable performance as the Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur and also won an Oscar for his achievement. But besides the performances of the various actors, the music, the setting and the costumes the film is of good quality and has some memorable scenes. The only criticism is that the film can be a bit prosy, because of the film’s long duration. It is clear however that the story is still popular, because in August a remake will hit theaters!


4 thoughts on “Review | Ben-Hur – 1959

    1. Me too!! My father made me watch it, so when the remake is coming, I will take him to the cinema 🙂

  1. Enjoyed your blog very much. I’ve always liked watching “Ben-Hur,” especially the chariot race.

    I recently composed a fun Ben-Hur quiz on my wordpress blog, In putting it together, I researched both the 1959 and 1925 films. In a way, I admire the earlier film more. The naval battle in the silent version is conducted with full-sized ships, rather than the models in the 1959 film. The 1925 chariot race includes shots of the entire stadium bleachers. According to my sources, the technicians pulled this off by creating doll-sized bleachers with wooden dummies, then splicing this simulation onto the full-sized racetrack. You wouldn’t be able to tell the difference without knowing ahead of time what was going on.

    – Sarah Douglas

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