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Sidelong Glance Biopic

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"This isn't my father's story. Well, it is, but he's not telling it."
Nick Flynn, Being Flynn

So you're finally getting that biopic made, but you're having some trouble. Maybe your subject is very controversial, maybe there are multiple conflicting accounts of his/her life, or maybe he's just too obscure for the average audience. How do you accquaint your viewers with the subject? You create a co-star and use him as the Audience Surrogate. This is a Sidelong Glance Biopic, so called because it is either unwilling or unable to look the subject straight in the eye.

In many cases, the subject of a biopic might not be alive or is in some other way unable to participate in a movie based on his/her life. Using the perspective of a friend or family member associated with the subject allows a filmmaker to gain details of someone's life without having to ask them directly and to show how their actions impact the lives of others. Besides, when you want to learn the truth about someone, that someone is usually the last person you should ask.

Due to the nature of their screenplays, these biopics more often than not tend to take advantage of Artistic License in their storytelling and are often less historically accurate. Also, if based on a secondary source (biography, memoirs, etc) the main character could easily be an Unreliable Narrator. Also often results in Billing Displacement, where the actor playing the subject is given top billing while the Audience Surrogate is given lower billing, despite usually having more screentime.

The White Male Lead trope leads to this in biopics about historical figures that weren't white heterosexual males. Done well, you end up with a well-made, if historically inaccurate movie. Done poorly, you get fictional characters that seem to solely exist to avoid having a non-white (or non-male, non-heterosexual, etc.) lead.

Compare First-Person Peripheral Narrator, which is a story is told in first person by a narrator who is not the main character.


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     Anime and Manga 

  • Jesus! by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (best known for his work as character designer of the original Mobile Suit Gundam) follows the life and times of Jesus Christ from the perspective of the various disciples as well as members of the Roman occupational government and others with a particular focus on the geopolitics of Judea and the Roman Empire.

     Comic Books  

  • Alan Moore's 2015 Providence is intended to be this for H. P. Lovecraft. It explores his life, his artistic influences, regional background and sociopolitical makeup in detail across 7 issues. Lovecraft himself finally appears on-screen in Issue 8.


  • 300 portrays story of King Leonidas of Sparta as told through the eyes (or eye) of Dilios, the one survivor of the army that fought at Thermopylae.
  • Amadeus tells the story of Mozart through the eyes of the rival who envied his musical genius. Speaking from an insane asylum.
  • A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood may appear to be a retelling of Fred Rogers' life, but the film is actually one author's personal experience with him.
  • Being Flynn provides the page quote.
  • Ben-Hur (1959) is a borderline example, using the events of the Gospel as the background for the story of a Judean nobleman-turned-slave.
  • Breach, where the arrest of infamous soviet spy Robert Hanssen is told through the eyes of a young up-and-comer assigned to work in his office.
  • Darkest Hour (2017) looks at Churchill's pivotal months of leadership primarily through the eyes of his young personal secretary.
  • Downfall looks at the final days of the life of Adolf Hitler from the perspective of his personal secretary.
  • Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile tells the story of the serial killer Ted Bundy from the perspective of his girlfriend.
  • Francis: Pray For Me is the biopic of Pope Francis, told by a journalist that met him in the 2005 papal conclave.
  • Danny DeVito's Hoffa tells the story of the controversial Teamsters Union leader (played by Jack Nicholson) from the perspective and memories of a fictional friend of his named Robert "Bobby" Ciaro, played by DeVito himself.
  • In Martin Scorsese's Hugo, the plot involves the real-life story of film pioneer Georges Méliès told through the eyes of the titular orphan boy who lives in a Paris train station and is trying to repair an old automaton owned by his father.
  • Invictus tells the story of Nelson Mandela's presidency and reconstruction of post-apartheid South Africa, as seen by the South African rugby team the Springboks as they aspire to win the World Cup.
  • Judas and the Black Messiah tells the story of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton through the eyes of the FBI informant who played a key role in setting up his assassination.
  • The Last King of Scotland, where the reign of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin is viewed through the eyes of his Scottish doctor.
  • The Last Station is about the last days of Leo Tolstoy told from the perspective of a young man hired to be his secretary.
  • Me and Orson Welles, where the story of Orson Welles's production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is told through the eyes of a teenage actor in the production, played by Zac Efron.
  • The Miracle Maker is the tale of Jesus Christ as seen by Jairus' daughter Tamar.
  • My Week with Marilyn views Marilyn Monroe through the eyes of a Production Assistant she met while working with Laurence Olivier on The Prince and the Showgirl.
  • Prefontaine tells the story of runner Steve Prefontaine from the point of view of coach Bill Dellinger.
  • The Road to Wellville tells the story of Dr John Harvey Kellogg (he of the cornflakes) through the eyes of one of his long-suffering patients.
  • Salvatore Giuliano: An extreme example. The subject of the biopic, Sicilian bandit and outlaw Salvatore Giuliano, is The Faceless (only seen onscreen from a distance or from behind, and only a couple of times) and has only a few lines. His story is told by how the people around him are affected—Sicilian politicians, Sicilian police, his mom, the men in his bandit gang.
  • Shirley is a biopic of Shirley Jackson — told from the perspective of a newlywed woman who comes to stay with Shirley and her husband Stanley for a year while her husband is working with Stanley at the college.
  • Talk to Me is a biopic about the famous DJ Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene is told via the story of his producer Dewey Hughes.
  • That Night in Varennes isn't strictly a biopic, and in fact takes place over only about 48 hours. But in other respects this trope is played straight. The flight of King Louis XVI of France and Queen Marie Antoinette from revolutionary Paris, and their capture in the town of Varennes, is told not from the perspective of the king and queen, but from that of a different coach of (mostly) uninvolved people who happen to be traveling behind the royal party on the same road.
  • Thirteen Days depicts the Cuban Missile Crisis and John F. Kennedy's handling of it from the perspective of his advisor Kenny O'Donnell.
  • Velvet Goldmine: a drama that is most definitely not about David Bowie is told from the perspective of a journalist played by Christian Bale.
  • The Whole Wide World (1996 film about a woman who meets Robert E Howard) is one of those.

     Video Games