The brothers behind Christian music duo for KING + COUNTRY have made a film about the struggles of their early years. It’s a beautiful tribute to a mother’s faith, says Esther Higham, but in making it all about her, it plays a little safe


Source: Unsung Hero

What’s the most extravagant gift you’ve ever given for Mother’s Day? Chances are, it pales into insignificance compared to Luke and Joel Smallbone (otherwise known as Grammy award-winning music duo for KING + COUNTRY)’s offering in Unsung Hero, which is, ostensibly, a tribute to their mother. The film portrays Helen Smallbone as the unsung hero of their family, holding them together in their transition from disgrace in Australia to success in the USA.

The movie opens with a hit of 80s nostalgia, featuring both Amy Grant and Christian rock legends Stryper in the first few minutes. David Smallbone, an ambitious music promoter, has seen success with an Australian tour of the heavy metal rockers, and now wants to bring the biggest Christian star of all - Amy Grant - down under. But against the backdrop of a sudden recession, the tour fails and Smallbone loses his reputation, his contracts and his home.


The chance of a new start in the US entices David, his pregnant wife Helen and their six children to pack up and head for Nashville, the epicentre of the Christian contemporary music scene. But his promised job evaporates and they’re left with no money, no car and an unfurnished house.

But Australia’s answer to the VonTrapps are a plucky bunch. They begin to pray as a family - creating a prayer wall in their home and moving post-it notes to the ‘answered’ side as they are fulfilled in a number of faith boosting miracles. They set about mowing neighbours’ lawns, cleaning houses and are welcomed into a friendly church who rally round to help the new family.

There’s a Waltons-eque feel to the tale of a family pulling together in tough times

They pin their hopes of a turnaround in their fortunes on their eldest daughter, Rebecca, a gifted singer. But in her quest for a record deal, disappointment follows disappointment and devastated David falls into depression. In the standout moment of the film - which drew gasps from me and my teens as we watched it - Helen gives her husband some home truths and drives the family to dig deeper into their faith.

Finally, salvation comes from an unlikely source: a famous producer whom David turned down in Australia and whose home the family now clean. Rebecca gets the deal she so deserves - on the condition that she changes her surname to St James. The rest, as they say, is history…


Unsung Hero is a charming family-friendly film which demonstrates the power of giving children the responsibility of playing their part in the family adventure - both spiritually and practically.

There’s a Waltons-eque feel to the tale of a devout family pulling together in tough times. When I asked Luke Smallbone how this challenging season affected his early years, he told me: “I loved it! I got to use a lawnmower at the age of five and earn money!”

My teenagers enjoyed the film, even suggesting that we create our own prayer wall at home - which we have since done, so the story of the Smallbones has had a lasting impact on our own lives.

Unsung Hero is also a film about community - and the challenges of giving and receiving. The Nashville church fills the gaps in the Smallbones lives - gifting them everything from cars to Christmas gifts - and while Helen and the children are delighted, it’s much harder for David to receive them gracefully.

Ambition is also a key theme - the Smallbones have talent and drive and, as history shows, they do make it to the top of the Christian music scene. But the tension between ambition and calling is pulled tight - how much can David’s canniness and experience achieve if God’s timing isn’t right?

Written and directed by Joel Smallbone, who also plays his father David in the film, it’s a very decent effort, with great attention paid to recreating the early 90s look and feel. The performances from Joel, Daisy Betts (who plays Helen) and the adorable cast of children are naturally and beautifully played.

Wider impact

Fans of for KING + COUNTRY and Rebecca St James will love the film and have fun spotting some fan-based Easter eggs in the script (including a nod to their Grammy award-winning track ‘Burn the ships’).

Christians looking for an inspirational personal story, and music industry nerds who want some behind-the-scenes insights will also enjoy it - so it is no surprise that the film has done well in the states, reaching number two at the box office there.

In the standout moment of the film, Helen gives her husband some home truths

Here in the UK, I am not sure that its appeal will be as broad, which is a little frustrating. Unsung Hero is a delightful watch but, considering the filmmaking talent involved, what has been created perhaps won’t impact wider culture in the way that for KING + COUNTRY’s music has.

I look forward to further creative outings from Joel and Luke Smallbone, which will hopefully take bigger risks, and create even bigger ripples.

Listen to Joel and Luke Smallbone speaking to Esther Higham on Premier Christian Radio’s Inspirational Breakfast