NEW YORK — When Aden Young cracked open the script for “Rectify,” he thought, “Oh, here we go again: another guy released from Death Row.”
But he kept reading, and within a few pages “I realized this script had some sort of solid anchor. That anchor was Ray and his unique take on life.”
Solidly anchored by creator-writer Ray McKinnon, this six-hour miniseries tells the story about a man who was caged for two decades for the rape and murder of his teenage girlfriend. Then, when his conviction is vacated thanks to new DNA evidence, he is restored to an outside world that proves just as harrowing.
“Just because he’s getting out doesn’t mean this thing is over,” Daniel Holden’s lawyer warns his family as they wait outside the prison walls for his return to them and the Southern hometown he no longer knows.
The first two hours of the series air at 9 p.m. Monday on the Sundance Channel.
Holden is played with poignant spareness by Young, an Australian actor whose credits include “Killer Elite” with Robert De Niro and Clive Owen, the TV series “The Starter Wife” and the upcoming film adaptation of graphic novel “I, Frankenstein,” in which he stars as Dr. Frankenstein.
“Every now and then something comes along that speaks to your personal rhythm,” Young said by phone from Sydney. “I felt there was almost a necessity for me to play Daniel.”
McKinnon felt a necessity of his own to write “Rectify.”
The actor is best known for his role as Reverend Smith in the HBO series “Deadwood” and as Lincoln Potter, a psycho lawman on the FX drama “Sons of Anarchy.”
He is also a filmmaker who shared a 2001 Oscar for the short film “The Accountant,” which he produced and starred in with his actress wife, the late Lisa Blount, and longtime friend Walton Goggins (“Justified”).
The dynamics of family fascinate McKinnon, he said by phone from Florida, where the Little Rock, Ark., native was visiting his sister. Another object of interest: how the legal system can go terribly awry.
“I kept thinking about society’s need for order, sometimes in lieu of justice,” he said. “If something heinous happens, we want to feel like we can find and root out the evil that caused it. But the pressure to do that can cloud our judgment.
“One day, I just decided to write something about all that, and see if it would manifest.”
Loss is the overriding theme of “Rectify.” Loss is felt everywhere: The town’s loss of fragile equilibrium upon Daniel’s disruptive return; the loss, still being felt painfully, of the murdered girl; the irrecoverable loss of decades in prison by Daniel. He is truly a lost soul.
“But there was also the lightness of being that I wanted to present as a part of his experience,” McKinnon said.
With halting laughter, Daniel screens a comedy on a DVD player with his young half-brother Jared (Jake Austin Walker). He registers amazement at finding a drink at the convenience store called SmartWater, earnestly asking the cashier if it works.
“Rectify” is part of a new initiative by Sundance, known primarily for unscripted films, to break into scripted drama. It is the network’s first wholly owned scripted production.
Filmed in Griffin, near Atlanta, the series has gathered a splendid cast that includes J. Smith Cameron as Daniel’s mother, Clayne Crawford as his wary stepbrother, and Adelaide Clemens as the stepbrother’s devout, all-forgiving wife.