Unsung Hero
Rated PG
Opens May 30

People plugged into the Christian music scene will be familiar with the names Rebecca St James and for King & Country. What may not be as well known is that the duo and soloist are siblings, all born and raised in Australia – until a financial calamity in the early 1990s saw their parents resettle their large family in Nashville, Tennessee.

This move and the events following it are the basis for the film Unsung Hero. 

David Smallbone was a successful music promoter, bringing numerous Christian artists to an enthusiastic Australian audience, until a big risk taken just before the “recession Australia had to have” meant he lost everything. 

With nothing but a job offer and a six-month visa, Smallbone took his pregnant wife Helen and their six children to the States, only to have the job evaporate as soon as they arrived. 

On the face of it, this looks like one disaster on top of another. They have very little money, six children to feed and no job prospects. What could God’s plan possibly be in all this?

Should they just do as Helen’s mother suggests and come straight home?

We now know that the Lord’s hand was on the family as they trusted him for all things and were blessed in ways they could not have imagined, but it was a long road fraught with uncertainty. And in this, the trust and faith of Helen Smallbone come to the fore.

Hearing a thumbnail sketch of the plot, you might be forgiven for thinking that the hero of the title is David: a Christian man who does not give up after a huge setback but instead takes his family across the globe for a new start and ends up becoming the manager of three of his children in successful music careers.

All of that is true, of course. But what we see onscreen instead is a man assailed by sorrow and doubt, ashamed of his inability to care for his household and struggling with the pride that would say “No” to potential opportunities and even the support of Christian friends.

It is Helen who, despite her initial misgivings about coming to the US, turns the children’s uncertainty into comfort – even fun. Having no furniture becomes an adventure; she knows they are where God wants them to be.  It is she who encourages the kids to be brave, to care for each other and pray simply and earnestly for what they need, trusting that the Lord will provide. And he does.

Amid major pitfalls, and moments of real fear and distress, Helen chooses to have confidence in the words of Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth”. And she begins to see daily miracles as even their most ambitious prayers begin to be answered.
Helen is who we’d all like to be in our Christian walk. But it’s David Smallbone (played by son Joel from for King & Country) who is probably a closer match for most of us in difficult times, walking an uncertain path between faith and worldly cynicism, trust and despair.

But while dealing with his emotional rollercoaster is hard viewing at times, we also need to recognise the gift it is to us.

Because Unsung Hero isn’t really about achieving success after difficult times – although it’s always nice to see a happy ending. The film is about how to bring up our kids to know and trust the Lord; how to love each other deeply, from the heart; to nurture our gifts but also humble ourselves before God so that he can lift us up.

It’s about prayers answered but not in the way we expect, and trusting God’s plans, even when we don’t understand them. It’s about life in all its messiness and making wise choices about how we will live it from day to day.

It also provides a very powerful window into the faith and experiences that have shaped St James and for King & Country. And I, for one, won’t listen to their music in the same way again.