“Rectify”: Sundance Channel drama shows exonerated convict’s struggle with freedom

Monday, April 22
Sundance Channel, special 2-hour premiere 9pm ET, regular time slot 10pm ET

Aden Young Rectify Sundance ChannelThe story pops up on the news with disturbing regularity: A wrongly convicted man is finally released after spending decades in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The viewers see the happy family reunited, and vicariously thrill to the thought of what he will do with his newfound freedom.

But the aftermath is far more complicated than that. How does a person adjust to life in a world he hasn’t seen for nearly 20 years, over half his lifetime? Will society ever let him truly move on and go forward with his life? Will his family?

These are the questions explored in Sundance Channel’s first original drama series Rectify, a six-episode tale about Daniel Holden (Aden Young), who is released after serving 19 years on death row for the rape and murder of his teenage girlfriend. His struggle to rejoin life on the outside is the main thrust of this moody, Southern drama, which also throws in the mystery of whether Daniel is actually innocent.

Young, an Australian actor, says he believes it was clever to cast a foreigner in the role of Daniel, since that is how the character feels in this new world.

“He is very much a man who fell to Earth,” Young says. “If they had gotten a Southerner to play Daniel, they wouldn’t have seen it the way an observer would see it. For instance, wherever you were in the scene, there were elements of absurdity surrounding it. There’s an episode where the character goes to 7-Eleven or something and as he walks in, it’s quite a simple scene, but I was saying to [showrunner Ray McKinnon], ‘Look at how many fridges there are!’ You have to remember that 20 years ago there would have been one fridge full of Coca-Cola. Now you walk in the whole wall is fridges.”

Not to mention cellphones, video games and iPads, all of which the series has some fun with.

The cast also includes Abigail Spencer as Daniel’s sister, Amantha, who has fought for Daniel’s freedom for so long that she doesn’t know who she is independent of that struggle; Luke Kirby as the family lawyer who has an inappropriate relationship with Amantha; and rising star Adelaide Clemens as Tawney, the devoutly religious wife of Daniel’s stepbrother who finds herself inexplicably (and perhaps dangerously) drawn to him. 

While Young says he found the job incredibly rewarding, being in such an isolated, tortured mindset for so long did take its toll.

“We shot each episode in seven days, so it was like making half a film in seven days — it was actually quite an intense experience,” he says. “At the end of it I needed therapy, pretty much. It was an ordeal. But thankfully everyone involved in the production was first-class. I’ve been working in the business 23 years now, and I don’t think I’ve had such a great experience working with the crew. They certainly knew what they were doing.”

Photo: Credit: Sundance Channel