Born in Cumbria, England, Johnston attended Edinburgh University, reading English. He has been a drummer in various bands including Moles for Breakfast, The Waterboys and The Mike Flowers Pops. During his twenties, he travelled the world providing music accompaniment to silent films at film festivals. He later scored productions for the Royal National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Johnston's first film score was for the 1996 Thomas Hardy adaptation Jude. He has also composed original scores for the 2007 film about Jane Austen, Becoming Jane, and the 2008 adaption of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. In 2008, he was awarded a BAFTA for the score of the BBC film Capturing Mary.
Johnston's score for Charles Sturridge's mini-series Shackleton won a 2002 Primetime Emmy. In 2009, he scored the British science-fiction procedural TV series Paradox. He has also recently composed the theme music for the BBC detective series Zen and World War II drama The Sinking of the Laconia.
- "Composer Details: Adrian Johnston". Soundtrack Collector. C&C Concept and Creation. Retrieved 5 May 2013.
- Newton, Robert (3 August 2007). "Noteworthy CD releases". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 5 May 2013.
- "Television Craft Awards Winners in 2008". BAFTA. 11 May 2008. Retrieved 5 May 2013.
- "Shackleton". Emmys. Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 5 May 2013.
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