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Roma Downey insists remake of Ben-Hur will not have gay sub-plot of Hollywood epic

By Staff Reporter

Published 18/08/2016

Actress and producer Roma Downey at yesterday’s Hollywood premiere of Ben-Hur
Actress and producer Roma Downey at yesterday’s Hollywood premiere of Ben-Hur
Stills from the remake
Stills from the remake

Northern Ireland's second richest woman has insisted there will be no gay subtext to her remake of Hollywood epic Ben-Hur.

Roma Downey - from Londonderry's Bogside - is one of the most powerful voices in the US entertainment industry.

She is also a committed Christian, and together with husband Mark Burnett, produced the series The Bible for the History Channel, which was hugely popular in the US and received three Emmy Award nominations.

It was later adapted into a feature film called Son of God.

They had been inspired by Cecil B DeMille's version of The Ten Commandments. Now Downey is taking on another Hollywood classic - but won't be repeating the apparent gay sub-plot of the Oscar-winning epic starring Charlton Heston.

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

Heston dismissed the claim - and Vidal said that was because he had not told him about it, though he told the Ulster actor to act as though he was a spurned lover.

Boyd reportedly followed the instructions in a key scene in which the two reunite after years apart. Ben-Hur received 11 Oscars, including one for Heston while Boyd was the only cast member who got nothing.

Yesterday, Downey 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 certainly a boldness in taking on a beloved classic. We felt the time was right. It's almost 60 years since the Charlton Heston 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."

Downey was catapulted to fame in the States as Monica on CBS series Touched by an Angel, which ran from 1994 to 2003.

Roma and her husband live in Malibu, California, with her daughter Reilly, and her two stepsons. The two MGM executives regularly feature at the top of the annual Sunday Times Rich List, and this year were ranked second in Northern Ireland with a value of £375m.

She was pushed into second place by the widow of Norbrook Laboratories founder Lord Ballyedmond, following his death in a helicopter crash in 2014.

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