John Murphy composed the score for the new adaptation of “Les Miserables,” but competing with the iconic music from the Broadway version wasn’t an issue for him because, perhaps surprisingly, he’s “never actually seen the musical.” He did read Victor Hugo‘s original novel while he was on a concert tour through Europe in his early 20s, and then again a decade later. “Maybe that’s why I never went to see the musical,” he says, “because I didn’t want to be disappointed.” So when he was enlisted to work on this six-part PBS retelling of the novel, he jumped at the chance because it was so “personal” for him. Watch our exclusive video interview with Murphy above.
The series stars Dominic West as Jean Valjean, a convicted thief who’s mercilessly pursued by Inspector Javert (David Oyelowo). Meanwhile, unrest begins to grip the city of Paris in the post-Napoleonic years. The extensive cast also includes Olivia Colman, Lily Collins, Adeel Akhtar, Johnny Flynn, David Bradley, and Derek Jacobi.
Director Tom Shankland and producer Chris Carey shared Murphy’s sentiments when it came to avoiding comparisons with the musical. “They made it very clear that they wanted to go back to the source,” Murphy explains. And it wasn’t just the musical whose influence they wanted to avoid, but also “other adaptations of this story.” Considering he’d only ever read the book, that was easy. “When you’re not aware of the other version … there’s no pressure because you’re not feeling like you’re competing with something.”
Shankland wanted the score to be “down and dirty, not quite in tune, rough, primitive,” so Murphy’s original idea was to do something that sounded like “1816 Velvet Underground,” which he thought “might be a very cool way of putting a modern spin on this.” He mixed that in with “a lot of the folk instruments of the day” and “some analog synths,” creating “this horrible mix of ideas which should’ve been appalling,” yet somehow worked together.
Murphy is a self-taught musician who got his start working with such artists as Thomas Lang, Claudia Brucken, and The Lotus Eaters. His credits as a composer also include “Snatch” (2000), “Liam” (2000), “28 Days Later” (2003), “Millions” (2004), “Miami Vice” (2006), “Sunshine” (2007) and “Kick-Ass” (2010).
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