To me, Shakespeare is all about his words. Take away his words and you’ve gone down an interesting path, but not a particularly deep one. Doing a Romeo and Juliet story and calling it Shakespeare is like doing a Cinderella story and calling it Disney. Those are really just cover versions of much older stories.
So if what you want to do is make your own cover version of a story that Shakespeare tackled, the most interesting places are going to be where you decide to go a different way than Shakespeare did. Let’s look for a minute at this opening scene from A Thousand Acres, which I just watched and reviewed:
The setup for this scene walks right down the expected path — father/owner Larry has decided to split his “kingdom” up into three parts for his girls. Rose and Ginny both say “Great idea!” but Caroline says, verbatim, “I don’t know. I want to think about it.” Their father then shuts her down cold, kicking her out of the deal, and later closing the door in her face when she comes to reconcile.
Just in this moment, consider how this is different from Shakespeare’s version (where Lear gives her I count 5 separate chances to change her mind)? To my mind this makes the character less believable. He doesn’t even have a moment of confusion at her answer. It’s like he knew she was going to say that, and he had his answer all ready to go. But if that were the case why go through the charade of three equal pieces to begin with?
The scene in the movie cuts there. There is no suitor for Cordelia to try and make it right, no loyal Kent to beg the king to reconsider. As a Shakespeare geek I obviously would like to see those characters, but I don’t think they’re crucial to the story the movie wants to tell. I think what this scene does is to paint Larry/Lear as an entirely unsympathetic character, and that’s unfortunate. You feel for the real Lear. You know that he loves his daughters and is crushed at Cordelia’s seeming betrayal. But this guy? Larry? This guy is awful, and you wonder how it is that all of the townspeople love him so dearly.