Despite its splendor and pageantry, Lew Wallace’s novel “Ben-Hur” tells a rich and moving story of friendship, a fall from grace, and vengeance. The “Tale of the Christ” subtitle on the book and most of the film versions suggest a religious component, but it’s more of a masculine melodrama than anything else.

Two men of the ancient world, the Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and the Roman officer Messala (Toby Kebbell), are bound by childhood friendship. But as the Roman Empire begins to strengthen its grip on Judea, the two men find their relationship gradually strained by national differences. Soon, they are mortal enemies, as prince Ben-Hur tries to defend the Jewish rebels who are persecuted for fighting back.

He is then imprisoned and enslaved as Messala finds glory in the Roman Imperial ranks. As if destined, the two end up clashing again in a climactic gladiatorial chariot race, one with bloody consequences for both men. Finally, grace is found, not through anything the characters do, but through the crucifixion of Jesus, setting the story securely in the realm of the biblical.

Still, no version of the movie falls totally under the “faith-based” label, even though the 1959 film’s relative sense of taste around its depiction of Christ makes it one of the best American religious movies.

The 2016 version of the film is simultaneously more secular than past versions — as it focuses much more on Ben-Hur’s journey for revenge and the Jewish struggle against the Roman Empire — and more explicitly religious. The 1959 version of the film depicted Jesus reverently, as a silhouetted figure who never faced the camera head-on. In 2016, he’s an active participant.