The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie enjoyed multiple dramatic adaptions: a stage play in 1968, a film starring Maggie Smith in 1969, and a TV serial in 1978. The play and the film slightly reshuffled some of the correspondences between the characters and the plot elements. The TV serial took even greater liberties with the original.
During a two week absence from school, Miss Brodie enters into a love affair with Lowther on the grounds that a bachelor makes a more respectable paramour. At one point during these two years in the Junior School, Jenny is "accosted by a man joyfully exposing himself beside the Water of Leith".
Once the girls are promoted to the Senior School (in the seventh year of school, around age twelve), though now dispersed, they hold on to their identity as the Brodie set. Miss Brodie keeps in touch with them after school hours by inviting them over as she used to do when they were her pupils. All the while, Miss Mackay tries to break them up and compile information gleaned from them into sufficient cause to fire Miss Brodie. When two other teachers at the school, the Kerr sisters, take employment as Mr. Lowther's housekeepers, Miss Brodie tries to take over their duties. She moves in with him and sets about fattening him up with extravagant cooking. The girls, now thirteen, visit Miss Brodie in pairs over at Mr. Lowther's house, where all Miss Brodie does is ask about Mr. Lloyd in Mr. Lowther's presence. It is at this point that Mr. Lloyd asks Rose, and occasionally the other girls, to pose for him as portrait subjects. Each face he paints ultimately resembles Miss Brodie, as her girls report to her in detail, and she thrills at the telling. One day when Sandy is over visiting Mr. Lloyd, he kisses her for peering at him with her little eyes.
Before the Brodie set turns sixteen, Miss Brodie tests her girls to discover which of them she can really trust, ultimately settling upon Sandy as her confidante. Miss Brodie, obsessed with the notion that Rose should have an affair with Mr. Lloyd in her place, begins to neglect Mr. Lowther, who ends up marrying Miss Lockhart, the chemistry teacher. Another student, Joyce Emily, steps briefly into the picture, trying unsuccessfully to join the Brodie set. Miss Brodie takes her under her wing separately, however, encouraging her to run away to fight in the Spanish Civil War on the Nationalist (pro-Franco) side, which she does, only to immediately meet her death at the front lines.
The original Brodie set, now seventeen and in their final year of school, go their separate ways. Mary and Jenny quit before graduating, Mary to become a typist and Jenny to pursue a career in acting. Eunice becomes a nurse and Monica a scientist. Rose lands a handsome husband. Sandy, with a keen interest in psychology, finds Mr. Lloyd's stubborn love and painter's mind fascinating. For five weeks during the summer, now eighteen and alone with him in his house while his wife and children are on holiday, she has an affair with him.
Over time, Sandy's interest in the man wanes while her interest in the mind that loves Jean Brodie grows. In the end, she will leave him, adopt his Roman Catholic religion, and become a nun. Beforehand, however, she meets with the headmistress and blatantly confesses to wanting to put an end to Miss Brodie. She suggests Miss Mackay try accusing her of fascism, and this tactic succeeds. Not until her dying moment will Miss Brodie be able to imagine that it was her confidante, Sandy who betrayed her. After Brodie's death, however, Sandy, now Sister Helena and the author of "The Transfiguration of the Commonplace", maintains that "it's only possible to betray where loyalty is due".When visitors come to visit Sandy at the nunnery, they ask what most inspired her to write the book. Sandy replies -- clenching the bars of the grille -- that it was a Miss Brodie in her prime.
The complexity of these two characters, especially Jean Brodie, mirrors the complexity of human life. Jean Brodie is genuinely intent on opening up her girls' lives, on heightening their awareness of themselves and their world, and on breaking free of restrictive, conventional ways of thinking, feeling, and being.
However some have questioned whether the play is a particularly faithful adaptation. The number of girls in the Brodie Set is reduced from six to four (Mary McGregor, Sandy, Jenny, and Monica) and some of them are composites of girls in the novel. Mary McGregor is a composite of the original Mary McGregor and Joyce Emily, although mainly based on the original Mary the episode of dying in the Spanish Civil War is given to her, and rather more is made of this incident than in the novel. Jenny is a composite of the original Jenny and Rose, in spite of her name she has more in common with Rose, since it is she who Miss Brodie tries to manoeuvre into having an affair with Mr Lloyd.
Allen adapted her play into a film in 1969, which was directed by Ronald Neame. It is remembered for Maggie Smith's performance in the title role, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. There was also a notable performance from Pamela Franklin as Sandy, for which she won the National Board of Review award for Best Supporting Actress.
Interestingly Gordon Jackson played Gordon Lowther, and Rona Anderson, who was married to Jackson in real life, played chemistry teacher Miss Lockhart, whom Lowther married in the film. Robert Stephens, then Maggie Smith's real life husband, played Miss Brodie's married lover, Teddy Lloyd, and Celia Johnson played the austere and antagonistic school headmistress, Miss Emmeline MacKay. Rod McKuen was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song for "Jean", which became a huge hit for the singer Oliver in autumn 1969. The play also underwent modification for the film; it cut out a few scenes showing Sandy in later life as a nun.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was adapted by Scottish Television into a seven episode television serial in 1978, also written by Jay Presson Allen, and starring Geraldine McEwan. Rather than recapitulate the plot of the novel, the series imagined episodes in the lives of the characters in the novel, such as conflict between Jean Brodie and the father of an Italian refugee student, who fled Mussolini's Italy because the father was persecuted as a Communist.