Unsung Hero brings the Australian band’s family story to life

Written by Adam Kline

For King and Country is a successful duo whose worship music has become known all around the world. On April 26, Joel and Luke Smallbone’s family story hits the big screen with the release of Unsung Hero. The film documents their move from Australia to the U.S. in the 1990s to start over and find opportunities for the family’s talented children to pursue the arts.

The film itself is sweet and sincere. It captures the small-scale struggles of a growing family. From a fresh start to paying bills, failing to provide, a shared faith, and pursuing their dreams—it’s all rendered quite tenderly. And while there are a couple of melodramatic turns in the story that seem unnecessary, the overall portrayal of parental stress is genuinely moving and authentic.

“We’ve told this [family] story as part of our live show for years,” says Joel Smallbone, who was co-writer-director and an actor in the film. “It was something our audience responded to. So, we had to ask the question, can we scale this for a wider audience?”

The film joins other recent autobiographical tales, from Steven Spielberg’s The Fablemans (2022) to James Gray’s Armageddon Time (2022), and many more. For Smallbone, creating the film also meant trying a new medium. Writing a screenplay is very different from writing a song. Filming dramatic family scenes requires a different set of skills than performing in a music video.

Smallbone knew he couldn’t tackle the challenge alone. So, he sought unique creative counsel from filmmaker Richard Ramsey, who became his chief collaborator and co-writer-director. Smallbone and Ramsay locked themselves away during the pandemic and began the process of adapting the Smallbone family’s experience and testimony. And when life began returning to normal, they continued to work on the screenplay in between the band’s tour dates.

Hearing Smallbone share about the creative process reminded me of Christ’s call for his disciples to be united and work together for the sake of the kingdom. Collaboration is central and essential to the Christian faith. Amidst our current divisive cultural climate, working together with kindness and respect—both in what we make and how we make it—can be a unique way Christian artists call the Church back to this unity. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “Make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose” (Philippians 2:2, NLT).

This call is a challenging one for Christian storytellers even in the best of circumstances. It’s far more difficult when audiences today are divided and increasingly segregated into smaller commercial quadrants. There is so much content out there and so many stories competing for our attention. Creating a work of art that can become a common point of reference for most people is nearly impossible.

But even if our audiences are small or disconnected and our stories may not seem grand or significant, the truth is, we still have the opportunity to share the ways God has worked in our lives to change and heal us. Telling others about our failures and struggles, and the lessons we’ve learned takes courage. It’s a real risk. But if we’re willing to creatively express our own testimonies and collaborate with one another, then our efforts will not only be worth the risk but will reveal an all-unifying narrative. In Christ, all our diverse stories find common ground.

Adam Kline leads intercultural missions for the Free Methodist Church in Canada and has a passion for storytelling. He lives in Belleville, Ont. Read more columns from “Behind the screens.”

Photo: Courtesy of Lionsgate.