‘Unsung Hero’ highlights struggles of Smallbone family

Joel and Luke Smallbone of For King and Country appear at the premiere of 'Unsung Hero' in Nashville, Tennessee.
Joel and Luke Smallbone of For King and Country appear at the premiere of “Unsung Hero” in Nashville, Tennessee. | Lionsgate

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When for King and Country star Joel Smallbone approached filmmaker Andy Erwin with the idea of directing a film about his family’s story — and starring as his own father in it — Erwin thought he was “nuts.”

“I said, ‘You’re nuts. Absolutely crazy,’” Erwin, who is behind a slew of faith-based hits including “Jesus Revolution” and “I Can Only Imagine,” told The Christian Post

“But I said, ‘You’re crazy enough where I believe in you. Let’s do this thing.’ It wasn’t too long before we realized this is a really special movie. This is one of those underdog stories that highlights the power of family and faith. What this family went through is unbelievable. This immigrant family lost everything and still succeeded.”

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“Unsung Hero” tells the true story of the Smallbone family, known in the music industry as brothers Luke and Joel Smallbone of the Grammy Award-winning Christian band for King and Country, and their sister Rebecca, better known as singer-songwriter Rebecca St. James. 

The film follows patriarch David Smallbone (Joel Smallbone), who, after his music company collapses in their home country of Australia, moves his wife and six children — with one on the way — to Nashville, Tennessee, in the hopes of a brighter future. However, the family faces a series of unforeseen challenges and is forced to rely on one another, their local community and their faith to sustain them as they survive in a foreign country.

In addition to Smallbone, the cast of “Unsung Hero” includes Candace Cameron Bure, Daisy Betts, Kirrilee Berger and Lucas Black. Lady A’s Hillary Scott appears as Luanne Meece, the song leader at their local church, while “Nashville” star Jonathan Jackson plays Eddie DeGarmo from the CCM duo DeGarmo & Key.

Speaking to CP at the red carpet premiere of the film, Erwin, whose company, Kingdom Story Company, produced “Unsung Hero” alongside Candy Rock Entertainment, said that already, audiences are relating to the Smallbones’ story and the honest way it’s brought to the big screen.

Andy Erwin speaks to The Christian Post at the premiere of 'Unsung Hero' in Nashville, Tennessee.
Andy Erwin speaks to The Christian Post at the premiere of “Unsung Hero” in Nashville, Tennessee. | Leah Klett/The Christian Post

“I don’t know what it is that makes this one stand out, but there is something magical that happens when audiences watch it. They just stand and cheer. I haven’t seen that in my career. I don’t know what separates this one, but it has the secret sauce,” he said.

“We gravitate toward true stories. Especially as Christians, our goal is not to preach to the choir; our goal is to preach to as many people outside the Church as possible. We have to have something they can relate to. You can preach at them all day long, and that’ll turn them off. But if you can share your real-life struggles and say, ‘This is what I went through,’ through a Christian worldview, that will resonate. Sometimes, in the Christian community, we are uncomfortable with tension, but when we can embrace it and point to Jesus, that’s when people see it and say, ‘I want that.’”

Throughout the film, matriarch Helen Smallbone is depicted as the backbone of her family. It’s her unrelenting faith, commitment to her husband and reliance on prayer amid difficulties that sustains her family as they face an uncertain future. According to Richard L. Ramsey, who directed the film alongside Smallbone, the title of the film is a nod to Helen Smallbone’s resilience.

“People will identify with a lot of the characters in this story,” Ramsey said. “When the Smallbones finally do succeed, the rush of hope it provides is so invigorating. They relied on God, they prayed for the miracles in their life. Helen Smallbone is really the ‘unsung hero’ of this story, and people are really resonating with that.” 

Music also plays a significant role throughout the film, with nods to early CCM stars like Stryper and Michael W. Smith. Rebecca St. James’ attempts to break into the Christian music industry are dramatized, along with the numerous rejections she initially received. 

Reflecting on her early years in CCM, St. James, who eventually became one of the industry’s most visible faces in the 1990s, told CP that as a teen, she “wasn’t super tuned into the rejection part of it.”

“I had dedicated my talents, my gifts to God and just wanted Him to use my life,” she said. “I would say, ‘Just lead me,’ and I think I trusted Him to lead me the right way, whether that was music or something else. So, my dad carried the weight of that rejection a lot more than I did. As I got older, I carried it…

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