Birthday Concert for Pope Benedict XVI (2007) - Pick

Hamlet (1996) - Pick

Newly available on DVD from German classical record label Deutsche Grammophon, Birthday Concert for Pope Benedict XVI presents the concert held this past April 16 at the Holy See’s Aula Paolo VI Hall in honor of the Pope’s 80th birthday.

Pope Benedict’s love of classical music is well known. The concert program includes a violin concerto of Benedict’s favorite composer, Mozart, chosen by the Holy Father himself and masterfully rendered by young virtuoso Hilary Hahn.

Also included are Dvorák’s “New World” Symphony and selections from Italian composer Giovanni Gabrieli. Welcoming speeches are included, as is the Holy Father’s expression of gratitude: 

“I am convinced that music … really is the universal language of beauty which can bring together all people of good will on earth and get them to lift their gaze on high and open themselves to the absolute good and beauty whose ultimate source is God himself. … I thank those who combine music and prayer in harmonious praise of God and his works: They help us glorify the Creator and Redeemer of the world, which is the marvelous work of his hands.”

Also newly available in a two-disc special edition is Kenneth Branagh’s acclaimed adaptation of Hamlet. At just over four hours, it’s the only unabridged film version of Shakespeare’s greatest play. Vigorous and imaginative, Branagh’s Hamlet uses 19th-century Victorian settings and costuming to blend a sense of period with greater contemporaneity. (The play’s setting was essentially contemporary for its original audience).

Branagh makes effective cinematic use of flashbacks to add visual and emotional impact to some of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches and scenes. When Hamlet’s father’s ghost (Brian Blessed) relates how he was murdered, or when Hamlet reminisces over poor Yorick’s skull, we see the past events the words refer to. Branagh also cheekily subverts Ophelia’s father’s warning to his daughter (Kate Winslet) not to return Hamlet’s affections with a fleeting flashback of Hamlet and Ophelia in bed.

The outstanding cast includes well-known British actors (Derek Jacobi as Claudius, Julie Christie as Gertrude, Richard Briers as Polonius, Nicholas Farrell as Horatio) with well-chosen American actors in certain roles (Charlton Heston as the Player King, Billy Crystal as the gravedigger, Jack Lemmon as Marcellus).

At the center of it all is Branagh the actor, whose gift for natural, seemingly improvisational readings of Shakespeare’s canonical lines is unparalleled. There may be no one definitive Hamlet, but Branagh’s interpretation is indelible and indispensable.

Content advisory

Birthday Concert for Pope Benedict XVI: Nothing problematic. Hamlet: Minor profanity; a few sexual references and crude words; a fleeting bedroom scene (no explicit nudity); stylized, sometimes deadly violence. Teens and up.