Bill Condon Rewriting Hugh Jackman’s P.T. Barnum Musical, ’12 Years’ Writer John Ridley Takes ‘Ben-Hur’

Bill Condon Rewriting Hugh Jackman's P.T. Barnum Musical, '12 Years' Writer John Ridley Takes 'Ben-Hur'
Bill Condon Rewriting Hugh Jackman's P.T. Barnum Musical, '12 Years' Writer John Ridley Takes 'Ben-Hur'

As the old song goes, it’s nice work if you can get it, and Bill Condon must be glad his phone was ringing at all. With “The Fifth Estate” getting middling reviews, and serving as one of the worst wide release openings of the year, the writer/director has licked his wounds and already landed a new gig, albeit one where he’ll working with a pen instead of a megaphone.

In the works since 2009, Hugh Jackman has forever been attached to the P.T. Barnum musical movie “The Greatest Showman On Earth.” In 2011 commercial director Michael Gracey (who will make his feature debut with the Tom Hardy-starring Elton John biopic “Rocketman“) signed up for the movie, and then not much was heard about it again, but now Condon will put his pen to the project following a first draft by Jenny Bicks (“Sex And The City“). The story will center on Barnum’s adoration for Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind, and Condon is more than familiar with musical movie territory thanks to “Dreamgirls.” But whether he has the special stuff to get this finally going we’ll have to be patient and see (and considering Gracey is shooting “Rocketman” next fall, ‘Showman’ is probably still a long way off).

Meanwhile, John Ridley has turned the buzz surrounding “12 Years A Slave,” which he wrote, into some new jobs. First up, he’ll take a pen to the “Ben-Hur” remake that’s brewing with Timur Bekmambetov attached to direct. This version, based on the Lew Wallace novel “Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ,” will center on the “formative years” of Judah Ben-Hur and Messala, leading up to the moment in which the latter betrays the former, selling him into slavery (sound familiar?), with vengeance coming in the form of chariot races or something. And oh yeah, it will feature more Jesus too.

And Ridley is cooking up stuff on TV too, signing up with ABC to executive produce and write “American Crime.” This one will push more buttons, telling the story of “a racially charged murder and the subsequent trial, which are examined through the personal lives of the victims, the accused and their families. The case takes on greater meaning in the community, bringing to the forefront America’s hardened views on race, class and gender politics.” That actually sounds great if done right, so put John Ridley as one to watch as his post-“12 Years A Slave” work is getting pretty interesting. [THR/Variety/Deadline]

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