Movie Spotlight: 'Unsung Hero'

Posted on Monday, April 8, 2024 by Lindsay Williams

Movie Spotlight: Unsung Hero

You know for KING & COUNTRY as the hitmakers behind songs like “Fix My Eyes,” “God Only Knows” and “TOGETHER;” but did you know their story began long before they won their first of four GRAMMYs®? Their journey started on the other side of the world, to be precise. If it weren’t for their sister — acclaimed singer/songwriter Rebecca St. James — and the trail she blazed in Christian music, the revered duo would never be gracing stages around the world today. And if it weren’t for the siblings’ parents and their courageous steps of faith, well, it’s safe to say the decorated act, comprised of Joel and Luke Smallbone, might never have become a reality. The real story of the beloved brothers’ origin is chronicled in their new movie, “Unsung Hero,” in theaters Apr. 26, 2024.

Titled after for KING & COUNTRY’s original single — initially released as a deep cut on 2022’s “What Are We Waiting For?” — “Unsung Hero” is less about the timeline that led to the brothers joining forces for one of Christian music’s most celebrated musical outfits and more about the events that inspired their sister’s rise to fame. At its heart, “Unsung Hero” is a movie about family — the Smallbone family, to be exact. And while the song is dedicated to the strong Smallbone matriarch, there are a number of central cast members in the film that fit the unsung hero bill.

First, there’s Helen, the loving “mum” who supports and cares for her husband and growing family with a fierce strength and a relentless faith. Next, there’s David — husband to Helen and father to the Smallbone brood — who sacrifices his pride repeatedly to provide for his family. And then there’s Rebecca — the eldest Smallbone sibling with the quiet spirit and the big voice, who never anticipates a future in the spotlight. All unsung heroes. All integral to the story.

Making his directorial debut, Joel plays his father, David, in the biopic. Meanwhile, Australian actress Daisy Betts assumes the principal role of Helen. With six children and another one on the way, David and Helen make the difficult decision to move their family across the globe from their native Australia to Nashville, Tenn. When they arrive on U.S. soil, however, visions of the American Dream are quickly shattered as they encounter hurdle after hurdle.

On the brink of financial ruin and far from home, David — a Christian concert promoter — loses the job he had been promised upon arrival. With no car, no furniture and barely enough money to survive, the Smallbones are left with little to their name. That’s when they start praying for a miracle. 

As the movie portrays, every member of the Smallbone household — from the oldest to the youngest — pitches in to simply keep the lights on. They do everything from mowing yards and cleaning houses to raking leaves and babysitting. In the meantime, their community rallies around them, ensuring that even their smallest daily needs are met.

If you’ve ever experienced for KING & COUNTRY in concert, this is the part of the story you’re likely already familiar with. Luke often talks fondly about the kindness of strangers during those early days in America from stage. Neighbors would leave groceries on their porch. A family friend gifted them a car large enough to transport a family of nine; and — as one of the film’s most moving scenes depicts — their local church made their first Christmas in America one they’ll never forget, supplying them with furniture, a washer and dryer and even a Christmas tree.

As the Smallbones struggle to make ends meet, David’s unwavering belief in his daughter’s musical gifts and the calling God has placed on his own life drive him to take bold risks that, eventually, pay off. There are times, however, when his dreams end up costing him nearly everything.

Moviegoers will recognize a few familiar faces, other than Joel. “Full House” alum Candace Cameron Bure plays Kay Albright, a hospitable woman with a memorable southern accent who immediately makes the Smallbones feel welcome. Lady A’s Hillary Scott appears as Luanne Meece, the song leader at their local church. Additionally, “Nashville” star Jonathan Jackson fills the shoes of Eddie DeGarmo from classic CCM duo DeGarmo & Key; and Rebecca St. James even makes a cameo as a flight attendant.

As one might guess, music plays a significant role throughout the film with an accompanying soundtrack that includes several new originals, as well as fresh recordings of some of Christian music’s most iconic hits reimagined by for KING & COUNTRY and the artists who originally made them famous. These include Michael W. Smith’s “Place In This World,” Amy Grant’s “Lead Me On,” Stryper’s “To Hell With The Devil” and their sister’s “You Make Everything Beautiful.” Each song is instrumental in the Smallbone story. Among other insights, the movie affirms Christian music has provided the family’s personal soundtrack from the very beginning, and Rebecca St. James and for KING & COUNTRY are simply carrying on the mantle of many of their musical heroes.

Avid enthusiasts of faith-based movies will be pleased to learn that while Joel and Luke are the masterminds behind “Unsung Hero” — their second feature-length film following 2016’s “Priceless” — the duo also partnered with Andrew and Jon Erwin, the brothers behind blockbusters like “I Can Only Imagine” and “Jesus Revolution,” to bring their remarkable story to life. It’s an account Helen previously shared in her memoir, “Behind the Lights: The Extraordinary Adventure of a Mum and Her Family,” now making the book a complimentary companion piece to the film.

In a very “behind the music” kind of way, “Unsung Hero” is the real story that prefaced the unlikely career that ultimately launched Rebecca St. James as one of Christian music’s premier female artists in the early ’90s. Although certain elements of the family’s journey are admittedly embellished for dramatic effect (read: That surprising slap never happened in real life.), the majority of the Smallbone adventure depicted on the screen stays true to the way things actually unfolded. “Unsung Hero” is rated PG for some minor thematic elements, including moments of intense anger, but the movie is one the entire family can enjoy together.

While their unorthodox path will inspire audiences, it’s the grit and authenticity of the characters, however, that will evoke plenty of tears throughout the film’s nearly two-hour runtime. David’s humanity is especially on display as he navigates a spectrum of emotions and wrestles with rejection, self-worth and loss. Helen’s faith takes centerstage as she faithfully champions her husband and children every step of the way. And the Smallbone siblings shouldn’t be overlooked either — viewers will fall in love with all seven of the stair-step kids as their unique personalities shine through, even from a young age.

Ultimately, “Unsung Hero” is a narrative about the values the Smallbones still embody today: perseverance in the face of unfavorable odds, the power of prayer, the importance of family, and the necessity of hard work. Above all, it’s a story about God’s provision and the modern-day miracles that materialize when we approach the Creator of the universe with childlike faith.

Amy GrantFor KING & COUNTRYHillary ScottMichael W SmithMusicRebecca St JamesMovie Spotlight

You Might Also Like

Movie Spotlight: Because of Bethlehem

Movie Spotlight

Movie Spotlight: 'Because of Bethlehem'

By Lindsay Williams

K-LOVE Live at Red Rocks Movie Spotlight

Movie Spotlight

Movie Spotlight: ‘K-LOVE Live at Red Rocks’

By Lindsay Williams

Movie Spotlight: The Hiding Place

Movie Spotlight

Movie Spotlight: ‘The Hiding Place’

By Lindsay Williams